USDA directed to reconsider dormant rule requiring disaster plans for animals

USDA directed to reconsider dormant rule requiring disaster plans for animals

Rule would protect millions at puppy mills, roadside zoos and other enterprises

WASHINGTON (December 23, 2020)—The Humane Society Legislative Fund (HSLF) celebrates the approval by Congress of a provision to help ensure needed care for millions of animals at puppy mills, roadside zoos, and other facilities in the event of an emergency, such as a natural disaster or pandemic. The provision is part of the omnibus package funding the federal government, which is awaiting President Trump’s signature into law.

The provision directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to start the rulemaking process on lifting its stay on a long-dormant final rule requiring facilities regulated by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to have emergency response plans for the animals in their care. The USDA issued the rule in 2012, but then indefinitely delayed its implementation in 2013.

HSLF worked with U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., to press for a directive on this in the appropriations legislation, and mobilized 207 Representatives and 41 Senators to join in the request. Rep. Titus also introduced the Providing Responsible Emergency Plans for Animals at Risk of Emerging Disasters (PREPARED) Act, H.R. 1042, which has 222 cosponsors and would essentially codify the USDA rule.

“Animals held by puppy mills, roadside zoos, and other commercial enterprises deserve protection in the face of a natural disaster or pandemic,” said HSLF Director of Federal Affairs Mimi Brody. “It’s long past time for USDA to reinstate this common-sense requirement. We are grateful to Representative Dina Titus for being a tireless champion of this cause and to the many other legislators who helped secure this important win.”

“The lives of animals are too precious to leave to chance,” said Rep. Titus, D-Nev.. “I’m pleased that the public will once again have an opportunity to make it clear that zoos, commercial breeders, research facilities, and the like must be prepared to keep their animals safe when disaster strikes. Sadly, we’ve learned that if these entities do not have a plan in place when an emergency hits, it is already too late.”

Background: The USDA originally proposed this common-sense rule in 2008, published the final rule in 2012, and it went into effect on January 30, 2013, requiring facilities to have their plans in place by July 29, 2013. However, USDA issued an indefinite stay of implementation on July 31, 2013 in response to concerns about very small businesses being covered. Congress addressed these concerns by including a provision in the 2014 Farm Bill directing USDA to establish a de minimis exemption in the AWA for licensees with only a few non-dangerous animals. Conference Managers noted that the de minimis exemption would free up agency resources and that they expected the agency to lift the stay on the contingency rule “without delay.” USDA set the de minimis exemption in June 2018 but has not yet lifted the stay.

Given the increasing frequency and intensity of weather-related events due to climate change, as well as the potential for serious staffing shortages due to COVID-19, AWA-regulated facilities must think through how to handle tasks such as evacuation, shelter-in-place, provision of backup food and water, sanitation, ventilation, and veterinary care. In addition to raising serious animal welfare concerns, a lack of planning poses safety risks and an undue burden on local first-responders, non-governmental organizations, and members of the public who respond to save animals in times of crisis. Facilities doing NIH-funded research are already required to have disaster plans for their animals, as are those accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International and by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. This rule will level the playing field to ensure that puppy mills, roadside zoos, and other outliers also have disaster plans.

Media contact:
Anna West: (240) 751-2669,


The Humane Society Legislative Fund is a social welfare organization incorporated under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code and formed in 2004 as a separate lobbying affiliate of The Humane Society of the United States. The HSLF works to pass animal protection laws at the state and federal level, to educate the public about animal protection issues, and to support humane candidates for office. Visit us on all our channels: on the web at, on our blog at, on Facebook at and on Twitter at