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Until earlier this month you could go to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website and review Animal Welfare Act inspection reports. Now, if you want to see a report, you must file a Freedom of Information Act request. It sometimes takes months to get a request fulfilled.

Why the change? Animal welfare advocates blame the Trump administration, arguing the move was made to shield people from negative reports. The USDA denies this, saying the decision was made before the Trump administration took office. The USDA says it’s involved in litigation over the release of information and decided, at least for now, to remove the information from its website.

They may be involved in a legal case but it doesn’t make sense to take away public information that has been available for years. Regulated dog sellers no longer have easy access to information on puppy mills. It makes it more difficult for them to comply with the law. Anyone planning to adopt a pet will have a harder time finding a reputable seller. The USDA reports provide information on the worst institutional offenders and details on Animal Welfare Act violations.

More American households have a pet of some kind. Before they adopt, they want to know they are getting a healthy animal. If they are taking a rescue animal they want as much information as possible on the pet so they can give it the care it needs.

An international group that supports the use of animals in scientific labs, Speaking of Research, also is concerned about losing the information. Researchers need to know the condition of the animals they are using.

North Dakota, like other states, has had major cases of animals being mistreated. There have been puppy mills uncovered, starved horses discovered and more. In these cases groups and individuals have pitched in to save the animals. Having information available on the USDA website doesn’t guarantee these cases will come to light any earlier, but it can be a valuable tool in fighting animal abuse.

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There are those who are critical of the Humane Society of the United States. They think the group goes too far in its efforts to protect animals. However, the Tribune believes the Humane Society, especially in North Dakota, does good work. Taking away the website information makes their efforts more challenging.

In a Forum News story, Drew Fitzpatrick, director and founder of the Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation, notes that animal abuse investigators on occasion uncover child abuse cases while investigating animal cases. Unfortunately, some people who abuse animals find it easy to transition to children.

There’s no good reason to protect those who abuse animals. The information should be returned to the website.

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