Editors’ Note: This is our first contribution from Camille Iacono, a tenth grader in Lincoln Public Schools who writes about animal welfare.
On March 14th, 2019, Rick Herchenbach, an employee for the Nebraska Department of Agriculture Dog and Cat Inspection Program, filed a whistleblower report with the Nebraska Legislature Ombudsman’s office. Herchenbach alleged that the Department of Agriculture has been repeatedly failing to enforce consequences for animal abusers in the commercial dog and cat trade. On Thursday, October 8th 2020, Ombudsman Carl Eskridge issued a 191-page report detailing the wrongdoing of the Department of Agriculture.
The Department of Agriculture plays an important role in bringing animal cruelty to light–or rather, they’re supposed to. Because this department is integral in seeking justice for abused animals, their failure to do so should not be taken lightly. The commercial dog and cat trade is an inherently exploitative industry, as it breeds animals into the world with the sole purpose of profiting off of them, meaning that often, the production and sales of these animals are seen as more of a priority than their health and well-being. It is therefore very important to have safeguards in place to prevent the blatant disregard for these animals’ lives.
It is the duty of the Department of Agriculture to ensure that any reports of animal neglect or abuse are brought before the proper authorities. This is stipulated by the Dog and Cat Inspection Act, which offers detailed protocol for how the Department of Agriculture is to administer sanctions or refer cases for criminal prosecution. Further, the Department of Agriculture is legally required to refer complaints involving animal cruelty the very day they are received. Failure to do so is breaking the law.
The Ombudsman’s investigation was conducted by Deputy Ombudsman Carl Eskridge in consultation with Ombudsman Julie Rogers. They found that the Department of Agriculture committed wrongdoing, broke the law, spent funds irresponsibly, and that many other people involved with the Department of Agriculture had brought up concerns similar to Herchenbach’s. They concluded that the Department of Agriculture consistently did not properly refer complaints of animal abuse and neglect to the authorities.
Tom Dozler is the Dog and Cat Inspection Program manager for the Department of Agriculture. One source has identified him as the man who left his gun lying around in a Nebraska State Office Building bathroom–but his irresponsible tendencies don’t stop there. He pressured Herchenbach to not investigate and report claims of animal cruelty. When an anonymous source reported a claim of abuse, he released her name, causing people to harass her. According to a source, he also called places of abuse and gave them a heads-up that they were going to be investigated. It is clear that Dozler needs to be held responsible but this information also raises bigger questions. How did the Dog and Cat Inspection Program go over a decade referring almost no cases of abuse and neglect for prosecution? What are the Department of Agriculture’s motives for covering up cases of abuse and neglect?
Jennifer Munson, founder of the Phoenix Remix Animal Rescue, believes that the Department is receiving pressure from farmers to not pursue justice for cruelly treated dogs and cats. After all, if it becomes common practice to not let animal abuse go unnoticed, perhaps that will put the spotlight on the mistreatment of livestock. Munson believes that as long as the Department of Agriculture is in charge of the Dog and Cat Inspection Program, they will turn a blind eye to the animals that depend on them.
Exhibits in the Ombudsman’s report show truly heartbreaking images of dogs and cats in the pet trade who were severely neglected and abused, some so starved that their skin looks like a thin layer of fur attached to their ribs. The fact that the Department of Agriculture has been turning a blind eye to such despicable cruelty is deeply unsettling and reflects a broader attitude towards the disposable nature of animals in the pet trade.
We have a crisis going on in regards to dog and cat homelessness. There is no need for an industry to be profiting off of sending more and more animals into shelters and onto the streets. The pet trade cannot go unregulated, because if it does, innocent animals will pay the price.