Chalk one up for the Obama administration's new era of transparency.
Beginning today the U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to make available its large database of commercial dog kennel inspection reports. That means for the first time the public can easily access details of the conditions inspectors find at all the kennels that sell to pet stores throughout the United States.
The USDA will post inspection reports on its Website (though not yet as of 6:30 a.m.) for thousands of kennels, along with catteries, exotic animal breeding operations and, soon, research facilities. Until now, virtually all of the reports were available only through Freedom of Information Act requests that took months to fulfill.
A USDA spokeswoman told me while the agency had long wanted to put inspection reports online, it was the Obama administration's "new emphasis on transparancy" and the addition of more computer database experts in the agency that finally made it happen. Reports will be posted dating back to 2006.
Bob Baker, an investigator with the ASPCA said the database will help advocates track problem kennels but would offer little for the average dog buyer.
"It could be misleading to consumers if they are relying on it to purchase a dog," he said. "We know USDA does a poor job enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, so a prospective buyer shouldn't interpret a kennel that passes inspection as necessarily being a good kennel."
In most states the USDA is the only enforcement agency regularly inspecting commercial kennels. In Pennsylvania, the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement inspects all licensed kennels at least twice a year. In 2007, Gov. Rendell ordered that all state inspection reports be posted online.
Here's how to access the federal inspection reports: go to the APHIS homepage at http://www.aphis.usda.gov and click on FOIA Reading Room, in the right-hand portion of the screen. The inspection reports will be available under the Animal Welfare heading in the Reading Room. Choose the type of licensee or registrant you are interested in, and then choose the state. Once you choose the state, you will be able to scroll through the alphabetical list of licensee or registrant names and make your selection.
The USDA regulates more than 5,200 animal breeding, research and exhibit facilities - including more than 200 in Pennsylvania. Inspectors enforce the Animal Welfare Act which provides standards for housing, sanitation, food and water and condition of the animal. Wholesale breeders in Pennsylvania must hold a USDA license and state kennel license and are subject to inspections from both agencies. The amended Pennsylvania dog law enacted last year imposes higher standards than the Animal Welfare Act, including larger cages, a ban on stacking and wire floors, most of which go into effect in October.