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USDA permanently revokes license of Virginia breeders

News
Article

Citing numerous violations of the Animal Welfare Act, a court order oversaw the surrender of approximately 200 animals and fines of more than $300,000

A pair of animal breeders in Virginia recently had their Animal Welfare Act (AWA) license permanently revoked by an order of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that cited numerous violations. The USDA and the Virginia Attorney General’s Office also oversaw the surrender of approximately 200 animals in the care of breeders Elena Mikirticheva and Andrey Mikirtichev of North Chesterfield, Virginia, who are also facing more than $300,000 in civil penalties.1,2

“The humane treatment of animals has always been a top priority of APHIS, and we use all available resources to carry out this goal,” said Roxanne Mullaney, DVM, deputy administrator for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Animal Care Program, in an agency release.1 “We applaud the work of our inspectors and our partners, and value the partnerships that help ensure enforcement of the AWA.”

Under court order, approximately 45 animals were surrendered to USDA, which placed the animals for adoption through shelters and rescue organizations in Virginia. The federal agencies also worked with the Virginia Attorney General’s Office to seize more than 150 more animals at the facility for placement with the Humane Society of the United States.2

The actions and penalties imposed upon the defendants are part of preliminary injunction relief issued by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) for alleged pervasive mistreatment of animals. The relief was ordered by US District Judge David J. Novak for the Eastern District of Virginia to replace a temporary restraining order that cited more than 50 AWA violations—identified by APHIS inspections—for failure to provide adequate shelter, medical care, and other animal care to cats and dogs.2 The pair of breeders also failed to provide access to USDA inspectors.1

Legal filings alleged that APHIS inspectors repeatedly found animals in need of veterinary care over the course of 2 years. According to the DOJ, Mikirticheva and Mikirtichev delayed seeking veterinary care for some animals, and failed to follow the veterinarian’s advice for others that did receive medical care. Furthermore, APHIS inspectors found animals in cages smaller than AWA requirements allow, while other dogs and cats seemed to be dehydrated or malnourished because of dominant or aggressive behavior displayed by animals with whom they should not have been housed. Allegedly, APHIS inspectors also observed junk, waste and/or hazardous materials in areas accessible to the animals, the DOJ noted in a news release.2

APHIS first issued a 21-day license suspension for the facility on August 11, 2023. The agency filed an administrative complaint on August 25, 2023, and referred the case to DOJ. The preliminary injunction secured by the DOJ, in part, ordered Mikirticheva and Mikirtichev to stop selling and acquiring animals.

One example provided in the federal complain detailed the condition of a male brown tabby kitten that had been born with a malformed chest that was compressed inward. Although the kitten had reduced space for his heart and lungs, an attending veterinarian was not notified of its condition. Instead, Mikirtichev tried to treat the kitten’s condition by unsuccessfully splinting the chest cavity with a toilet paper tube. Two weeks later, the kitten was found in respiratory distress with active diarrhea adhered to the fur, as well as thin and in poor body condition, while housed in an enclosure with 4 adult female cats and 13 other kittens. According to the complaint, Mikirtichev acknowledged the kitten’s poor condition but again neglected to communicate crucial information to the attending veterinarian. The kitten died shortly thereafter.3

Working together, USDA and DOJ continued to pursue civil penalties and other relief. The USDA filed the Consent Decision and Order to resolve the allegations in the administrative complaint on December 28, 2023, while the DOJ filed a consent decree in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.2

In cases where APHIS has reason to believe that an AWA licensee is placing the health of its animals in serious danger, APHIS has the authority and obligation to notify the Attorney General. The agency seeks to protect millions of animals nationwide that are covered by the AWA. Developed by APHIS, the Act and accompanying regulations set federal standards of care for animals that are bred at the wholesale level, used in research, transported commercially, or exhibited to the public, according to the USDA.1

References

  1. UDSA announces civil penalties and license revocation for Virginia facility due to repeated Animal Welfare Act violations. News release. USDA. January 9, 2023. Accessed January 11, 2023. https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/newsroom/news/sa_by_date/sa-2024/awa-violations-va-facility
  2. Virginia animal breeders surrender approximately 200 dogs and cats. News release. US Department of Justice. January 9, 2023. Accessed January 11, 2023. https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/virginia-animal-breeders-surrender-approximately-200-dogs-and-cats
  3. United States v. Elena Mikirticheva and Andrey Mikirtichev, No. 3:23-cv-552. US District Court for the Eastern State of Virginia. August 30, 2023. Accessed January 11, 2023. https://storage.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.vaed.542098/gov.uscourts.vaed.542098.1.0.pdf
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