USDA Sued for Renewing Animal Welfare Act License of Disreputable Wildlife Trafficker and Exhibitor
Animal Legal Defense Fund challenges the renewed license for the owner of Wildlife on Wheels after evidence has revealed ongoing violations for more than a decade
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the nation’s preeminent legal advocacy organization for animals, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for renewing Robert Sawmiller’s license to engage in activities regulated by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The Animal Legal Defense Fund had previously presented the USDA with “smoking gun” evidence of Sawmiller’s chronic AWA violations, which have led to numerous animal deaths in his possession. Sawmiller does business under the name Wildlife on Wheels — a traveling menagerie — and houses the animals at two facilities in Ohio and Indiana.
The AWA requires animal exhibitors and dealers to demonstrate compliance with the AWA, which is required by the Act before a license can be issued. As part of the AWA license renewal process, Sawmiller was required to submit a timely application that certified his operation was in compliance with the regulations and standards of the AWA. Sawmiller failed to submit his application on time — which should have led to automatic license termination — but the USDA nonetheless renewed the license. And when the USDA rubberstamped its approval of Sawmiller’s renewal application, the agency ignored its own records of Sawmiller’s persistent violations of the AWA protections. One such instance occurred during a March 2020 inspection, when a USDA inspector identified injuries on animals, of which Sawmiller was unaware.
“The Animal Welfare Act is in place to protect animals from harm by ensuring standards are adhered to, but time and again we see captive animal exhibitors acting as if they are above the law,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “If the USDA won’t follow its own requirements when renewing or providing a license, especially with ample proof showing the inhumane treatment of animals, we will hold them accountable.”
Since as early as 2010, Sawmiller has received multiple non-compliance reports and official warnings from the USDA. His inspection immediately prior to the license renewal, on March 4, 2020, resulted in 19 total non-compliances with AWA regulations, 11 of which were repeat and three “direct.” Direct non-compliances, which “adversely affect the health and well-being of the animal,” are the most serious violations a USDA inspector can report. After renewing the license, the USDA inspected again on February 1, 2021, and found multiple “direct” violations, including that an “inadequately insulated shelter has led to a state of unrelieved suffering” for a brown bear cub in “poor body condition.”
In December 2020, the Animal Legal Defense Fund executed a court order, seizing three animals from Sawmiller near Wapakoneta, Ohio. The animals rescued included two wolves, Nikko and Atlas, and one Labrador, named Fancy, who was used in a puppy breeding scheme. Fancy was adopted, and the wolves are under the care of the Wild Animal Sanctuary.
Attorneys from Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP are contributing legal assistance to this case.
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