AC enforces the AWA primarily through the use of inspections. Our inspectors conduct unannounced visits to licensed or registered facilities, where they review all areas of care and treatment covered under the law. If we find deficiencies in a facility’s compliance with the law, we typically give the facility a date by which to correct those items.
APHIS’ Investigative and Enforcement Services personnel investigate alleged violations when licensees or registrants have not taken corrective measures to come into compliance with the AWA. If an investigation leads to AWA enforcement action, APHIS will review and consider all probative, reliable, and properly authenticated evidence that is relevant and material to the allegations.
Investigations that reveal AWA violations are acted on in a variety of ways, depending on their severity. Many infractions can be settled with an official notice of warning or a stipulation offer. Official letters of warning notify a licensee or registrant that further infractions can result in more stringent enforcement action. Stipulations allow alleged violators to pay a penalty in lieu of formal administrative proceedings.
In cases of serious or chronic violations, consequences become more substantial. Cases warranting formal prosecution undergo Department-level review for legal sufficiency prior to issuance of a formal administrative complaint. Formal cases may be resolved by license suspensions, revocations, cease-and-desist orders, civil penalties, or combinations of these penalties through administrative procedures.
When a case is designated as “high-priority,” AC, IES, and USDA’s Office of the General Counsel put special emphasis on the investigation and enforcement of a case to expedite its resolution. This measure has proven successful in shortening the timeframes of significant cases and providing quicker relief for animals protected under the AWA. AC and IES continue to use the high-priority designation in the pursuit of certain cases.
Cases are deemed high-priority based on the following criteria:
•Severity of animal suffering (death or severe injury),
In FY 2008, APHIS imposed animal welfare-related penalties totaling more than $1 million. In FY 2009, APHIS imposed animal welfare-related penalties totaling more than $400,000.
The next table provides detailed information on the number of animal welfare and horse protection enforcement actions conducted and resolved during FYs 2005–2009. It should be noted that not all cases are submitted and settled during the same fiscal year; a case can take considerable time to work its way through the legal system and appeals process.
Cases—Number of cases investigated