Laurie J. Gage, DVM, DACZM
USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Animal Care is the division of USDA that provides leadership for determining standards of humane care and treatment of animals. APHIS achieves compliance through inspection, education, cooperative efforts, and enforcement. For more than 40 years, Congress has entrusted APHIS with the stewardship of animals covered under the Animal Welfare and Horse Protection Acts. APHIS/Animal Care, continues to uphold that trust, giving protection to millions of animals each year, nationwide.
The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) requires that minimum standards of care and treatment are provided to certain mammals bred for commercial sale, used in research, transported commercially, or exhibited to the public. APHIS’ Animal Care program enforces the AWA primarily through inspections of regulated facilities. To ensure that compliance with the AWA is continually maintained, all facilities that keep animals regulated under the Act must be licensed or registered with APHIS. APHIS officials—veterinarians or qualified animal care inspectors employed by APHIS and trained to identify potential violations of the AWA and its regulations—conduct unannounced inspections of every licensed or registered facility in the country. APHIS inspectors receive special training in the proper care of marine mammals, exotic animals, and animals used in research. Inspectors also receive extensive training in how to conduct inspections at airport terminals, zoos, and commercial animal breeding facilities, among others.
Animal Care inspectors may either be veterinarians or individuals with considerable experience working with and caring for animals. All inspectors receive extensive training once they are hired into Animal Care. They are responsible for doing unannounced site visits of facilities that are regulated by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). They also may be involved with the confiscation of animals that are suffering or that are housed in dangerous or unhealthy situations. They occasionally are called on to assist in emergency situations that affect animals, such as fires or weather-related disasters.
The APHIS Center for Animal Welfare (CAW) is a newer division of Animal Care and is physically located in Kansas City, MO. The CAW was established in 2010 to coordinate training and education/outreach, conduct long-term policy analysis, and maintain program currency with the advancing science of animal welfare. The elephant, big cat, primate, kennel, and training specialists, along with a biophysicist, all work as a part of the CAW team. The specialists work to support the inspectors and promote education and training. AC also has an avian specialist located at Animal Care Headquarters in Riverdale, MD. There are two regional emergency response specialists who coordinate Animal Care’s assignment from the Department of Homeland Security to assist states in their efforts to include pets as a part of their emergency plans.
The most common job opportunities within Animal Care are inspector positions, followed by supervisor and specialist positions. There are a number of student internship and externship positions offered each year. For more information about student externships with the Animal Care program, go to this link: www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_welfare/downloads/meetings/Animal%20Care%20Externship%20Programv4.pdf.
For more information regarding APHIS Student internships, follow this link: www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/home.