APHIS, Justice Department strengthen Animal Welfare Act enforcement

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD), and the USDA Office of the General Counsel (OGC) have reached a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on civil judicial enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).

Signed in March, the MOU became effective this April.

The agencies have been closely collaborating on civil judicial enforcement of the AWA for almost four years, according to a March 8 press release from the USDA. This collaboration has resulted in a number of enforcement actions, including securing the surrender of nearly 150 animals from a Michigan animal dealer — some of which are protected under the Endangered Species Act — and an injunction protecting dogs and cats against mistreatment at a breeding facility.

A baby ring-tailed lemur
A baby ring-tailed lemur surrendered by a Michigan animal dealer who allegedly violated the Animal Welfare Act and Endangered Species Act. (Courtesy of USDA)

The MOU outlines new actions the agencies will take to enhance their collaboration and establishes a framework for notification, consultation, and coordination.

Building on the agencies’ ongoing relationship, this framework formalizes procedures for regular meetings, coordination on enforcement referrals, information sharing, and additional training for employees, among other activities. These procedures will better enable the agencies to prepare for and coordinate on potential civil enforcement actions, according to the USDA.

“USDA and DOJ take seriously their common goal of ensuring that animals protected by the AWA are cared for and treated humanely. This MOU demonstrates the agencies’ joint commitment to fulfilling this mission,” the USDA release said.