Rep. Axne Responds to Wayne County Puppy Mill Scandal with New Legislation to Force Stronger Enforcement of Animal Welfare Act

December 2, 2021
Press Release
New bipartisan bill named in memory of Goldie, one of 500 dogs kept in abhorrent conditions at Iowa puppy mill that had a documented history of violations

Yesterday, Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03) introduced new bipartisan legislation to close enforcement loopholes in the Animal Welfare Act. This is in response to the recent closure of a Iowa puppy mill in Wayne County that amassed nearly 200 violations of the law before being shut down by a court order.

Over the past six years, enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has dropped by nearly 90%, and no penalties have been imposed by USDA against commercial dog dealers since 2017. This is a result of USDA creating loopholes in enforcement practices that allow AWA violations to go unreported.

Goldie’s Act, named in memory of one of the 500 dogs neglected and abused at the USDA-licensed facility, would also require the USDA to document and report all observed AWA violations, and consider penalties against every dog dealer who violates the law.

“As a proud dog mom, I have made it my mission in Congress to hold those who abuse our animals accountable – especially in Iowa, where we have some of the worst examples of puppy mills in the entire country. I was appalled to see the images that came out of this Wayne County puppy mill, and even more disgusted to learn that these conditions were known to USDA for months – in clear violation of the laws we already have in place to protect our companion animals,” said Rep. Axne. “If one breeder can rack up nearly 200 violations of the Animal Welfare Act with impunity, then it’s clear there are loopholes in current law that need to be addressed. With Goldie’s Act, we make the dogs that suffered here in Iowa the face of this commonsense law that says there are no slaps on the wrist for breaking the law. We must ensure bad actors are held accountable by USDA and that our law is crystal clear on what should be done to promote animal welfare.”

Background:

In recent years, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has made changes to its AWA guidelines that provide more deference and create more avenues for observed violations to avoid further action – including the use of ‘courtesy visits’ where violations would not be reported or certain violations would be kept off official inspection reports.

Goldie’s Act would eliminate those APHIS-created loopholes and explicitly require USDA to:

  • Conduct more frequent and meaningful inspections,
  • Confiscate animals that are suffering,
  • Impose penalties for violations, and
  • Share inspection information in a timely manner with local law enforcement.

Goldie was a golden retriever at the Wayne County facility who was extremely malnourished for months. Goldie was observed by USDA inspectors, but her conditions were not officially reported or noted as an AWA violation. Goldie was euthanized by state veterinarians after being discovered in a barn extremely emaciated and without access to water.

A one-pager summary of the bill is available HERE. A section-by-section summary is available HERE. Bill text is HERE.

Sponsors:

The bill was introduced in the House yesterday with Representatives Vern Buchanan (FL), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA- 1), Mike Quigley (IL-5), Nicole Malliotakis (NY-11), and Susan Wild (PA-07).

“As a member of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, I have long championed legislation that promotes animal welfare,” said Rep. Fitzpatrick. “I am proud to join Rep. Axne in introducing this bipartisan legislation that will enforce protections under the Animal Welfare Act and hold animal abusers accountable, ensuring that they receive penalties equal to the animal cruelty violations they commit.”

“Time and time again, my office and I have been approached to intervene in situations of inhumane treatment of animals by breeders, handlers, and other USDA licensees who brazenly flout the legal requirements of the Animal Welfare Act,” said Rep. Quigley. “It is time to hold bad actors accountable and ensure the USDA has every tool necessary to enforce the AWA. I’m proud to join Representative Axne in cosponsoring Goldie’s Act, which will strengthen AWA enforcement and will go a long way towards ending the worst animal welfare violations, ensuring all animals live in health and safety.”

“Protecting animal welfare has been a priority of mine since my time in the New York State Assembly,” said Congresswoman Malliotakis. “I’m proud to continue to protect those without a voice by joining my colleagues in introducing legislation that would require the USDA to publicly report all animal welfare violations, remove animals from abusive environments and hold animal abusers accountable once and for all with strict penalties.”

Support:

The bipartisan measure has the support of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Animal Rescue League of Iowa, Humane Society Legislative Fund (HSLF) & the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

"Goldie was left to endure prolonged and extreme suffering, and her tragic death is a direct result of the USDA’s failure to fulfill its responsibility under the law to protect dogs who are bred and warehoused for the pet trade,” said Matt Bershadker, President and CEO of ASPCA. “Thousands of other dogs are still living in horrific conditions without adequate access to food, water, veterinary care, and exercise, while the USDA stands idly by, allowing violations to go unreported and unpunished. We are grateful to Representatives Axne, Fitzpatrick, Quigley, Malliotakis, Buchanan, and Wild for introducing Goldie's Act to restore welfare to the Animal Welfare Act.”

“The Animal Rescue League of Iowa calls on the USDA to address the issues within their system that allows dogs to suffer like they did in the Gingerich case,” said Tom Colvin, CEO at the Animal Rescue League of Iowa. “Local law enforcement with limited resources shouldn’t be expected to step in to stop the suffering in a facility that conducts business under USDA regulations. We thank Representative Axne for introducing Goldie’s Act to address and bring attention to this paralysis of federal oversight.” 

More Information:

In September, Rep. Axne wrote to APHIS Administrator Kevin Shea requesting the agency fully investigate the failure of USDA inspectors to act on repeated violations at the Wayne County puppy mill, pursue monetary penalties, and expedite the removal of the dogs from the puppy mill - as intended by the law.

In November, the breeder was forced to surrender all dogs in his possession to the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, where they are working to get the dogs proper veterinary care and place them in new adoptive homes.