Krishnamoorthi pushes legislation to better protect animals

As activists try to persuade municipalities and counties to ban the sale of commercially bred pets, U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi is proposing federal legislation meant to ensure the proper treatment of animals by commercial breeders, circuses, petting farms and others.

The Schaumburg Democrat this week introduced the Animal Welfare Enforcement Improvement Act. If approved, the measure would improve enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act by strengthening the U.S. Department of Agriculture's licensing process for animal dealers and exhibitors.

"Our goal is to weed out bad actors and make sure that animals are treated properly," Krishnamoorthi said after announcing the legislation during an event in Wheaton.

Animal dealers and exhibitors - including large commercial dog breeders, zoos, animal acts and wildlife parks - are required to obtain a license from the USDA and comply with the Animal Welfare Act.

While licenses must be renewed annually, Krishnamoorthi said the process "has become terribly broken."

"Unfortunately, bad actors have their licenses renewed repeatedly," he said, "despite the fact that we may even know that they're mistreating animals today."

Krishnamoorthi said there's been lax enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act - a problem that he says is getting worse.

He said the USDA in 2017 removed from its website thousands of inspection records related to animal welfare violations. The department is now using "industry-friendly practices," including pre-announced inspections.

"Even the USDA itself has started to acknowledge there's a problem that needs fixing," Krishnamoorthi said.

But he said new rules proposed by the USDA don't go far enough.

Krishnamoorthi said his proposed legislation would restore integrity to the licensing process by, among things, requiring unannounced inspections. Licensees with more than one serious violation in the previous two years won't get their license renewed.

New applicants would only have two chances to pass an inspection. And the USDA would be required to suspend the license of any dealer or exhibitor who commits a violation that presents a risk to animal welfare.

Krishnamoorthi said the legislation also authorizes citizen lawsuits to enforce the Animal Welfare Act.

Another key provision requires the USDA to publish all inspection reports, enforcement records and animal inventories online.

"This is important because it provides transparency and allows us to search and identify exactly who is breaking the law," Krishnamoorthi said.

Krishnamoorthi announced the proposed legislation this week in front of a crowd of dozens of animal activists outside the DuPage County Animal Services shelter in Wheaton.

County board member Brian Krajewski said officials have made it a priority to end the retail sale of commercially bred dogs, cats and rabbits in DuPage.

"With the support of our humane partners, we have made tremendous progress to that end," said Krajewski, adding that nine municipalities and two counties in the state have adopted humane pet store ordinances.

While those efforts continue, activists say Krishnamoorthi's proposed measure would close major loopholes in the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act.

Marc Ayers, the state director for the Humane Society of the United States, said the legislation would stop "the ongoing suffering and neglect that we see at far too many USDA licensed facilities."

"It will strengthen AWA enforcement, hold dealers and exhibitors accountable and, by doing so, it will protect animals - from captive wildlife to the cherished companions who share our loving homes," Ayers said.

  U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi announced the introduction of the Animal Welfare Enforcement Improvement Act this week in front of a crowd of dozens of animal activists outside the DuPage County Animal Services shelter in Wheaton. Brian Hill/
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