Press Release

Lawsuit Filed Demanding USDA Respond to Petition Seeking Aid for Abandoned Animals

The petition asserts animal relocation procedures must accompany USDA license revocation and termination proceedings


WASHINGTON, D.C. Today, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit to require that the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) respond to its 2016 rulemaking petition, which urges the agency to establish procedures for relocating animals from facilities that do not comply with the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The petition seeks to close a fatal gap in the AWA regulations, in which the USDA has prevented itself from relocating animals from facilities whose conditions are so dire that the USDA has sought to revoke or terminate their AWA licenses.

The USDA often issues damning inspection reports and enforcement actions against facilities that chronically flout AWA regulations but then refuses to remove barriers to removing and relocating the animals from the facilities, even in situations when animals are dying. Such was the case at a northeast Iowa roadside zoo, the Cricket Hollow Zoo, where hundreds of animals were kept in conditions so inhumane that the USDA initiated an enforcement action to fine the facility and revoke its AWA license. Throughout the proceedings the agency refused to seek animal relocation as a remedy, essentially committing to leave the animals in decrepit and unlawful conditions at the facility without any continuing USDA oversight. A USDA administrative law judge revoked Cricket Hollow’s AWA license in 2017 but did not require the animals to be moved to sanctuary — in fact, the USDA stated that the administrative law judge could not order relocation. The Animal Legal Defense Fund, refusing to abandon the remaining animals, brought an Iowa state court lawsuit, which resulted in the court finding Cricket Hollow Zoo to be a public nuisance that violated state cruelty laws and ordering the animals’ removal.

“The failure of the USDA to enforce the law and rehome animals it knows are suffering has led to a national crisis of serial ‘revoke and run’ cases, where animals are not receiving the full suite of protections they are afforded by law,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “The Animal Legal Defense Fund is urging the USDA to remedy this gap and end the cycle of suffering and impending death of animals left at facilities the agency itself has deemed incapable of providing minimum standards of care.”

The USDA’s flawed interpretation of the AWA contends the agency is prohibited from removing and relocating animals — even if they are suffering — during and after agency actions to revoke or terminate facilities’ AWA licenses. This interpretation is contrary to Congress’ purpose of ensuring humane animal care and treatment through the AWA.

The Administrative Procedure Act (APA) requires federal agencies to respond to all rulemaking petitions within a “reasonable” period of time. The USDA has violated this provision by failing to provide the Animal Legal Defense Fund with any substantive response in over five years.

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