Pets rely on us to be their voice and to protect them from harm.
That’s why animal cruelty officers exist, and it’s why some organizations go undercover to expose illegal animal operations, such as dogfighting and animal abuse.
Most animal cruelty cases rely on a set of laws called the Animal Welfare Act and, although its existence has provided justice for countless animals, there is still room for improvement.
The Animal Welfare Act
The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) was enacted in the summer of 1966 as a means for the Department of Agriculture to oversee and regulate the treatment of animals being used “in research or ‘for other purposes.’” Generally speaking, the law represents the “minimally acceptable standard for animal treatment and care” and is the backbone of most subsequent animal welfare laws.
Aside from mandating research facility inspections, creating animal transportation guidelines and standardizing humane treatment, the AWA outlines strict guidelines for pet dealer licenses. This became very important in the past few decades when Class B pet dealers were still active.
Class B Pet Dealers
If you’ve never heard of Class B pet dealers, don’t be surprised — as of this year, they’re out of business thanks to a law passed on Dec. 18, 2015, which banned the funding of Class B pet dealer licenses.
But even as little as a decade ago, these unscrupulous dealers were still active. And it’s no wonder, especially when dealers such as Hodgins Kennels in Michigan “sold 1,882 live animals and 1,659 frozen animals and grossed a whopping $742,128” between 2005 and 2007, despite being cited for violating the AWA.
Class B pet dealers are individuals or companies that sell animals to research facilities. Unlike Class A pet dealers, they don’t actually breed the animals themselves. Instead, they acquire animals from various sources.
Even after the AWA enforced licensing and strict documentation of the source of research facility animals, Class B pet dealers were still trading pets acquired unethically and often illicitly. Forged documents covered up the fact that dealers were selling stray animals and stolen pets to labs across state lines.
As more and more dealers were investigated and cited for misconduct and illegal activity, their numbers dwindled until only 5 remained in the country by 2014. As of 2016, even those remaining 5 couldn’t renew their licenses, thanks to a bill passed by Congress.
Animal fighting has been a stain on society for ages. From dogfighting to cockfighting, bear and bull baiting, the gore that surrounds dangerous (and often fatal) animal fighting has been disturbingly considered entertainment for hundreds of years.
Now, in the United States, it’s become a crime: Dogfighting is a felony in all 50 states, and it’s now illegal even to attend a fight. After the highly publicized Michael Vick case, the AWA was amended to “toughen the penalties for violations of the AWA related to animal fighting ventures.”
A Work in Progress
Even with the AWA being enforced to protect animals from abuse and neglect, we have a ways to go. Consider these facts:
- Despite dogfighting being a felony, “legal loopholes present many challenges to investigators and prosecutors.” Too often, organizers of dogfighting events walk away with just a misdemeanor or less.
- Animal abusers frequently lose the rights to reclaim their neglected pets but are often able to legally acquire more, continuing the cycle of abuse. And punishments for convicted animal abusers rarely fit the crime.
- Research facilities are required by law to provide veterinary care to their animals and administer pain medication to alleviate animals’ distress. But facilities can still legally withhold pain management if it would interfere with the test being performed on the animal. That’s the kind of loophole that must be addressed.
Here’s what happened to a few of Michael Vick’s fighting dogs after they were rescued:
Since its creation, the AWA has been amended many times to include harsher penalties for the mistreatment of animals, but as long as puppy mills still exist, dogfighters walk free and animal abusers have pets, there is work to be done.
If you want to help make a difference, research your state’s animal welfare laws and contact your local representative with your concerns.