The Man in Charge of Picking the Next Head of the USDA Defends Puppy Mills

puppy snuggling with his girl on a couchIf you care about animal welfare, you should be concerned that Brian Klippenstein will be leading the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) transition team and will assist in choosing a new chief for the department. Klippenstein is the executive director of a group called Protect the Harvest, an advocacy group whose stated mission is to: “protect your right to hunt, fish, farm, eat meat, and own pets.” While this may sound as if it’s just about defending people’s rights to freedom, what Protect the Harvest actually does is oppose legislation designed to improve the treatment of animals.

The group clashed with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) over the Massachusetts ballot measure outlawing the use of extremely tight cages for factory-farmed chickens and pigs. Klippenstein himself actively campaigned against the ballot, which nevertheless passed by a wide margin in November of 2016.

Protect the Harvest Supports Puppy Mills

Protect the Harvest even fights against measures meant to combat “puppy mills”—large operations that overlook animal welfare in the interest of maximizing profits. In 2010, Forrest Lucas, the founder and chair of Protect the Harvest, went to great lengths to oppose a ballot measure in Missouri that would require dog breeding operations to “provide each animal under their care with sufficient food, clean water, housing and space, necessary veterinary care, regular exercise, and adequate rest between breeding cycles.” In 2014, Protect the Harvest once again sided with puppy mills to fight against a bill designed to prevent the sale of dogs bred in puppy mills.

Puppy Mills: “An Industry of Torture”

The term “puppy mill” does not adequately capture the cruelty of large-scale dog breeding facilities. According to one former employee, they are “an industry of torture.”  In a piece written for Vice, this former employee describes how kennels are often stacked six or seven feet high with four or five dogs confined in each one. The puppies bark constantly, hoping in vain that someone will hear them and come to their rescue. The adult dogs kept for breeding purposes often have their voice boxes removed, and may spend their entire lives confined on the same cages.

puppy lounging on the floorAccording to Mary LaHay, president of Iowa Friends of Companion Animals, “The USDA bends over backwards” to help keep puppy mills in business. “If they’re out of line with the regulations,” LaHay says, “they’ll give them years to improve.”

What You Can Do to Fight Puppy Mills

Given Klippenstein’s appointment, it seems unlikely that the USDA will be taking harsher action against puppy mills any time soon. You can take action yourself to combat the suffering of dogs trapped in puppy mills.

One good way to do so is to contact your legislators. Let them know that you’re committed to preventing the inhumane treatment of dogs by puppy mill owners, and that you want regulation meant to improve their living conditions to be a priority for Congress. A direct action to suggest is that they work to expand the reach of the Animal Welfare Act to include kennels that sell large numbers of puppies.

You can also talk to your local pet stores about puppy-friendly policies. Ask them to choose to support homeless pet adoptions by refusing to sell puppies. If they already choose not to sell puppies, ask if they would be willing to hang a sign explaining that they’re taking a stand against puppy mills.

You can also write letters to the editors of your local papers to raise awareness about puppy mills so others can join the fight to end the suffering of animals perpetuated by this “industry of torture.”