An animal rights group claims important animal welfare records are missing from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's website.
The Humane Society of the United States on Tuesday said it struggled to produce its annual report on puppy mills because of missing data from the agency on pet breeders.
USDA removed all of its animal welfare inspection reports and most enforcement records from its website on Feb. 3.
The agency claimed it removed the records during litigation in an “abundance of caution” to “protect individual privacy."
The agency was reportedly sued in 2016 by a Tennessee walking horse organization, along with a Texas couple, over public records they claimed falsely identified people as having violated the Horse Protection Act (HPA).
About a month after the records were removed, the organization and the couple dropped their lawsuit, saying they achieved their main objective.
USDA has now reposted annual and other inspection reports for research facilities, as well as inspection reports for certain licensed facilities, but the Humane Society said records on pet breeding operations are still missing.
In its “Horrible Hundred” report on puppy mills, the group claims it found the greatest number of problem breeders in Ohio, Kansas and Pennsylvania. Problems found at these breeding facilities included underweight dogs, dogs with large open wounds, animals with feces in their fur and food bowls, and unlicensed dealers who had previously been charged with animal cruelty for selling sick puppies online.
With information on pet breeders missing, the group said in a statement that it is more important than ever for the public to take precautions when purchasing pets.
They urged the public to never purchase a puppy from a pet store, website or any breeder who won’t allow a buyer to browse their facility in person and see how the animals are kept.
Lyndsay Cole, a spokeswoman for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said the agency is conducting a comprehensive review of the information the agency posts online for the general public to view and will continue to repost information once its been reviewed.
Cole did not have an exact date for when the pet breeding records will be reposted, but said the agency is “working to review and repost records as soon as possible.”
This story was updated at 6:23 p.m. include statements from USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.