Washington DC– Citing a series of chronic animal welfare law (AWA) violations, an administrative judge on Friday permanently revoked the dealer license of Dan Moulton, owner of Moulton Chinchilla Ranch (MCR), one of the few dealers nationwide to supply chinchillas for experimentation.
In a rare court ruling following an 18-day hearing, United States Department of Agriculture Judge Jill Clifton found Moulton “unfit” to hold an AWA license and described his violations of the animal welfare as “absolutely astounding”. She also fined him $ 18,000. This is only the second time in 18 years that an administrative law judge has issued an oral decision under the AWA, which only underscores the seriousness of Moulton’s violations related to health, hygiene and animal safety.
The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) has repeatedly expressed concerns about the appalling conditions at MCR and called on the USDA for not applying the AWI to this dealer. Since 2014, Moulton has racked up the worst animal care record of the more than 10,000 legally regulated entities, as the USDA itself has documented. Yet the USDA, the research industry, and state and local law enforcement have repeatedly refused to act, even after MCR was cited for more than 100 AWA violations in reports. USDA inspection.
“During the hearing, Judge Clifton said she was ‘shocked’ by Moulton’s blatant disregard for basic animal welfare protections,” said Eric Kleiman, researcher at AWI. “She’s right. It shocks the conscience that for years and years the USDA has allowed what it has called“ the immense preventable suffering ”of countless numbers of chinchillas in Moulton.
“While this decision is aimed at shutting down a notorious dealer, the appeal process can take years,” Kleiman added. “We appreciate the judge’s action, but that doesn’t excuse the ministry’s continued failure to protect animals. These animals should have been seized years ago, as prescribed by the AWA, to prevent further damage. “
Photographs of years of USDA inspections document appalling conditions at MCR: the animals’ eyes are encrusted, sealed, swollen, closed, bleeding, and oozing; necklaces embedded in the necks of animals; protruding bones; soiled food; and green drinking water. During an inspection, an inspector found a dead chinchilla that had been left for so long it must have been lifted off the top of the cage. Inspectors testified during the hearing, despite Moulton’s repeated objections, about the suffering they witnessed. A veteran inspector testified that the MCR was the worst facility he had ever seen and that it gave him nightmares. Other inspectors said the conditions were “glaring”, “mind-boggling” and “atrocious”. A supervising veterinarian said he had never seen such serious violations.
According to the MCR, these were exaggerated accusations by inspectors “looking for anything to cite”. Sanford Feldman, director of comparative medicine at the University of Virginia – who was identified at the hearing as Moulton’s “technical advisor” and testified in Moulton’s defense – told Science last year that the chinchillas did not “suffer terribly”, which Moulton wanted “to do well with animals”, and likened the historic violations to a speeding ticket for traveling 26 mph in a 25 mph zone. He declined to be questioned by Science about the hearing.
In its November 2018 complaint, the USDA alleged that Moulton had repeatedly failed to provide veterinary care and be available for inspectors to assess compliance with the AWA. The complaint cited the repeated failure to remove excessive accumulations of garbage, shavings, dust, water, fur and dead animals in cages, as well as a lack of maintenance of structurally sound enclosures, provide adequate lighting, use clean water containers, employ a sufficient number of staff and control flies. Yet after years of horrific inspection reports and filing this complaint, the USDA helped Moulton complete the paperwork to renew his license in 2019.
MCR has supplied chinchillas to some of the world’s most prestigious research institutions, including the National Institutes of Health, Harvard Medical School, and Boston University. Chinchillas have large ears and hearing similar to humans, so they are often used for research into ear disease. The American Association for Laboratory Animal Science is actively promoting Moulton on its online buying guide, with an ad paid for by Moulton to appear in the guide’s vendor storefront.
“Animal welfare law must be enforced,” Kleiman concluded. “If licensees can continue to operate despite such gross violations of the law, then the license is meaningless. In addition, the research industry must be held responsible for turning a blind eye to dealers repeatedly cited by USDA inspectors for such appalling mistreatment. “
The Animal welfare institute (awionline.org) is a non-profit, charitable organization founded in 1951 dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by humans. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere – in the lab, on the farm, in commerce, at home and in the wild. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates and other important animal welfare news.