Just a few weeks ago, the United States Department of Agriculture purged from its website the entire 17-year database of information about the mistreatment of animals. The information covered abuse in a variety of settings, including research labs, puppy mills, and zoos.
The agency had been keeping the information because it dealt with investigations into companies and individuals with USDA licenses, and also because of lawsuits brought by animal welfare advocates. And maybe somebody over there thought it was the right thing to do.
After discovering that animal abuse information had been deleted, animal welfare advocates started flooding the USDA and their lawmakers with photographs of their pets and videos of lab animals obviously writhing in pain. Criticism came from lawmakers of both parties, and even from an organization that promotes animal testing. There was major media coverage, and lawsuits were threatened.
The government responded that the data had been removed “out of privacy concerns,” which would mean the privacy of the individuals and companies under investigation, not the animals. Just last week the USDA restored a small fraction of the purged data, but not by any means all of it.
Why should a crime victim lawyer care about this, other than because she loves animals and even some bugs?
Because people who are comfortable assaulting and abusing animals are also comfortable committing crimes against children and people.
- People who abuse their romantic partners often abuse their partners’ pets also. Or they threaten to kill the pet if the abused partner tries to leave.
- One study found that 88% of families under supervision for child abuse were shown to have committed pet abuse also.
- And virtually all of the young men who committed school shootings from 1997-2001 had a history of abusing animals as children.
So why did it happen? Speculation abounds, but “follow the money” is usually a good start. Major media outlets have reported on the investments that some lawmakers have in Tennessee Walking Horses, who are made to do that fancy prancing by a practice called “soring,” meaning that the horses aren’t picking up their hooves for treats, it’s because they are in pain. Others have reported that certain USDA administrators have connections to puppy mills, which are becoming more heavily regulated by states and local governments.
Of course, we need scientific research and I’m not one of those people who thinks we should never perform testing on animals. But how can you, the taxpayers, give your representatives any meaningful input into the decision of what testing to allow and what licenses to grant if you don’t have correct information? Most people are shocked by animal abuse and want it stopped.
Up till now, the sunshine seems to have helped. In 2008, almost 1 million animals were tested on, and 46% of them suffered pain. That number was dramatically down in 2015, but secrecy is not what is needed to help the trend continue. Let’s hope the information is restored soon.