Finding Local Animal-Welfare Violations with APHIS’s Inspections Database

The Animal Care division of APHIS (Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service) is in charge of enforcing the federal Animal Welfare Act. One of the main ways it does this is by conducting inspections of zoos, aquariums, circuses, sanctuaries, breeders of dogs and other warm-blooded creatures, and laboratories that experiment on animals. (There are huge gaps in the Animal Welfare Act and extreme problems with Animal Care’s inspection system, but I won’t go into those here.)

Most (but not all) of the resulting inspection reports end up in a database with a funky URL and clunky design, so it might not be something you’d stumble upon and start using. But if you’re a reporter looking for possible stories in your neck of the woods, you should get familiar with it. And if you’re an activist or other concerned citizen, this is a crucial tool. As of April 2019, it has well over 27,000 inspection reports from 2015 to the present.

To start, go here and bookmark it:

For purposes of finding violations and newsworthy stories, it’s best to not select anything from the pulldown menu “License/Registration Type.” This way, you’re searching for all types of establishments — labs, zoos, breeders, etc.

Don’t worry about anything in the second row either. That’s just for finding a specific establishment.

Instead, type in the city, zip code, or the entire state that you’re interested in.

Click “Search”

Below the search fields, you’ll now see a list of establishments that have been inspected. For example, in Tucson AZ:

To see the listing of reports for any one of them, click the indecipherable icon in the first column:

You’ll now see a listing of inspection reports, like so for the University of Arizona:


Click the documents icon in the first column to bring up the PDF of the report:

Note that most inspections don’t find any problems. Or, to be more accurate, most reports don’t contain mention of problems. Still, they often have one piece of important info: the number of animals in an establishment, broken down by species.

A couple of additional notes.

1) A quick way to see if any given inspection report contains information about problems, look in the column “Non-Compliances Inspection (NCI).” If a number there is anything other than zero, an issue was noted.

For example, in this listing of reports for the University of Arizona, the last report listed (2016) contains two “non-critical” problems:

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2) Some establishments will have “Certificate Status: Cancelled” in the listings. Often this means the establishment’s original Animal Welfare Act certificate expired and it signed up for a new one with a different number. Other times, it means the establishment went out of business or stopped messing with animals.

Here are just a few examples of the things you might find.

From a 2019 inspection of a dog dealer in Rutledge, Missouri (APHIS redacts the names of many dealers and breeders because — and I’m not kidding — they don’t want to violate the privacy of people who neglect and abuse animals):

From a 2019 inspection of Global Wildlife Center in Folsom, Louisiana:

From a 2018 inspection of Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson:

From a 2016 inspection of Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville:

From a 2015 inspection of the pharmaceutical giant Merck in Rahway, New Jersey:

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