USDA/APHIS’ Animal Care program enforces the federal Animal Welfare Act, which sets standards for humane care and treatment that must be provided for certain animals that are exhibited to the public, bred for commercial sale, used in biomedical research, or transported commercially. Individuals/entities that operate facilities using animals in these ways must provide their animals with proper veterinary care, adequate housing, appropriate nutrition, etc.
In Bob Markmann’s own words: “Our job can be smelly at times. I’ve been urinated on by a tiger while inspecting a circus. I’ve been sneezed on by an elephant. I’ve had a chimpanzee throw feces at me. And too often, I come home smelling like guinea pigs and dogs. But the worst was when I came home smelling like a prehensile-tailed porcupine. That smell takes the cake. I have not found a good way to describe it.”
Hazards of the trade, no doubt. But a small price to pay to make a difference in the lives of thousands upon thousands of animals each year.
Animal Care’s veterinary medical officers and animal care inspectors cover a particular geographic area across the country. They inspect animals and facilities licensed and registered with USDA under the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act. These dedicated souls spend a lot of time on the road, driving from facility to facility. Their duties include: observing animals for signs of poor health, abuse, or any kind of mistreatment or inadequate care; determining if animal enclosures are appropriate for the species and will not cause harm to the animals; inspecting horses at horse shows, auctions and sales; responding to complaints at USDA-licensed facilities; interviewing suspected unlicensed operators to determine if they need a license; and educating licensees and license applicants on the proper procedures in the humane care, handling and transportation of animals.
It’s a varied job description indeed. And it’s that daily variety, along with an innate desire for the welfare of the animals they regulate, which led these individuals to become APHIS inspectors. Asked why they chose this career, here’s what a few of them had to say.
“I became an inspector to make a difference for animals. Over my 22 years with Animal Care, I have found that, although we can’t help them all, we do make a big difference in the lives of the ones we can help.”
- Elizabeth Pannill, veterinary medical officer, Texas
“Previously, I had worked four years in private practice and four years for the Food Safety Inspection Service in a chicken plant in North Carolina. I applied for a position with Animal Care in South Carolina and was hired 19 years ago. We have made a lot of really good changes over the decades, especially in our training and our consistency. In the beginning, I had a licensee who was literally starving his cougars before my eyes, but all I could do was cite him. Today, we would have those cougars confiscated and taken to a better place.”
- Lisa MacElderry, veterinary medical officer, South Carolina
“I’ve been with APHIS more than 25 years. I’ve always been interested in animal welfare, and joined the agency hoping to make a difference.”
- Bob Markmann, animal care inspector, Pennsylvania
“I’ve been with Animal Care since Dec. 30, 1990. My purpose then is the same as it is today: to provide better environments for animals by helping their owners understand the importance of proper care. I wanted to be a part of an organization that would be searching for and utilizing new scientific approaches to improve the environment and care of the animals that are listed under the Animal Welfare Act.”
- Nancy Ellifrit, veterinary medical officer, Oklahoma