Animal Shelters Fear Overload After Federal Puppy Mill Inspection Records Taken Offline

It's gotten more difficult for people to avoid buying dogs from puppy mills after the USDA took thousands of inspection records off its website last week, and animal rights groups are concerned that local shelters will have to deal with the fallout. 

Already, the Bergen County Animal Shelter has seen people turning in dogs that are sick or have behavior problems. There's Rocky, a 1-year-old Great Pyrenees mix, who was born at a puppy mill and adopted by an unsuspecting family. When Rocky started snapping at their young children, their family gave him up.

"These people who surrender the dogs to us do it crying, but they can't keep an aggressive dog in the home," said Deborah Yankow of the Bergen County Animal Shelter. 

Animal advocates say that if people buying dogs can't check that the breeders are reputable, the dogs will wind up with health or behavioral problems and end up at the shelter. 

The USDA cited privacy concerns for taking inspection records offline, and says people can file Freedom of Information Act requests to see the records. But that costs time and could take months. 

U.S. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) is calling on the Trump administration to restore those USDA records, which also reveal violations at horse shows, zoos, aquariums and research labs. 

"It gives the public no way of knowing anything about the pets that are for sale," said Elizabeth Jensen of Best Friends Animal Society. "This is not just a humane issue but a consumer protection issue." 

On Twitter, dog owners used the hashtag #noUSDAblackout and shared photos of their pets that they saved from puppy mills. Seventeen Democratic senators have signed on to Menendez's letter urging the USDA to reconsider, and the Humane Society says it will sue to have the animal welfare records restored online for all to see. 

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