Each year, APHIS protects millions of animals nationwide that are covered by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The Act, and accompanying regulations developed by APHIS, set Federal standards of care for animals that are bred at the wholesale level, used in research, transported commercially, or exhibited to the public. Under the law, APHIS has the authority and obligation to confiscate any AWA-regulated animal that is in a condition of unrelieved suffering.
When APHIS inspectors identify a suffering animal, they intervene quickly on its behalf and make sure the animal gets the care it needs. First, inspectors will clearly explain to the owner what needs to be done, such as requiring the facility’s veterinarian to tend to an injury or health issue, and then set a short deadline — usually 24 hours — for when corrective action must be taken. Under the AWA, if proper care is not provided by the deadline, APHIS must ensure that the animal is taken to a facility where it will receive humane care according to Federal standards.
While confiscations are rare — APHIS has conducted nine in the past 3 years — they require a great deal of planning, effort, and teamwork to be successful. “It becomes a flurry of activity, and it’s pretty intense,” says Dr. Laurie Gage, APHIS’ field specialist for large cats.
APHIS Animal Care handles the logistics of animal confiscations, such as locating a new home for the animal and transporting it there. USDA’s Office of General Counsel establishes the legal basis for the operation and advises APHIS officials every step of the way. APHIS’ Investigative and Enforcement Services and USDA’s Office of Inspector General provide security and, when necessary, arrange for a law enforcement presence at the confiscation site to see that the operation goes safely for all involved.
Even though they know how emotionally intense and difficult the job will be, USDA confiscation team members work together to get the suffering animal away from its present situation and bring it to a better place. It’s a mission that’s every bit as rewarding as it is challenging.
“It’s incredible to put everything into motion,” says APHIS’ Animal Care inspector Lori Linn. “You hardly sleep for days before a confiscation. You think through everything and then you double-think it… And then — it’s great. You see pictures of the animals in their new homes, and you see how healthy they are. It’s amazing.”