From Trouble to good faith: A chat with Dale Schwindaman, top cop for the Animal Welfare Act

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 1994:

WASHINGTON D.C.––Dale Schwindaman called
to talk about Trouble.
As USDA Deputy Administrator for Regulatory
Enforcement and Animal Care, Schwindaman is the top cop
at the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service––the exec-
utive responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act. On
the beat since the act was passed in 1966, Schwindaman
took charge two years ago with strong concerns about long-
standing problems that hadn’t been effectively addressed,
determination to do something about it, and a few ideas
about doing it by speaking softly while carrying a big stick.
Pet theft in particular bothered him. Schwindaman
spent much of his time from 1966 until 1981 trying to nab
the “random source” animal dealers who fence stolen dogs
and cats to laboratories. In those days he didn’t have the
laws, the budget, or the political backing to succeed. After
moving to the USDA veterinary branch for a decade, how-
ever, Schwindaman returned to APHIS just as the Pet Theft
Act of 1990 took effect, enabling the USDA to crack down
on dealers who can’t document the origin of the animals they
sell––whether or not the animals are traced to theft.

“The Jerry Vance case in Mississippi came along
just at the right time,” Schwindaman admits. Investigative
work by Doll Branscum Stanley of In Defense of Animals
and the staff of the television program Eye to Eye With
Connie Chung put irregularities in Vance’s acquisition of
animals before millions of Americans just in time to
avalanche Congress with letters of support for a crackdown.
The letters lent extra weight to pressure already being
applied by prominent Vermont attorney James Martin,
whose dog was stolen in early 1992. Schwindaman set up a
pet theft task force. On February 18, 1993, acting on infor-
mation supplied by ANIMAL PEOPLE, Schwindaman
invoked the AWA to permanently halt the import of random
source animals from Canada for laboratory use. That was
just the beginning. Since then, APHIS has prosecuted a vir-
tual who’s who of notorious animal dealers: Vance, of
Europa, Mississippi, permanent license revocation and fine
of $25,000, $20,000 suspended; James Joseph Hickey of
Albany, Oregon, 10-year license suspension and fine of
$10,000; Ervin Stebane, of Kaukauna, Wisconsin, a pre-
cendent-setting lifetime license revocation; Carolina
Biological Supply, of Burlington, North Carolina, fine of
$2,500. Many other cases are pending.
On marine mammal beat, too
Since the Marine Mammal Protection Act reautho-
rization in May, Schwindaman has also been responsible for
supervising the well-being of captive marine mammals, a
job formerly left to the Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration. That landed Trouble in Schwindaman’s lap,
as his first high-profile marine mammal case.
Trouble, age 7, was one of 12 bottlenose dolphins
left homeless by the August 31 closure of the Ocean World
marine mammal park in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Unable to
place the dolphins at accredited U.S. facilities, Ocean World
at the last minute arranged to send them to the Institute for
Marine Sciences in Roatan, Honduras, better known as the
St. Anthony’s Key dolphin swim resort. The deal was expe-
dited by the USDA at the urging of the National Alliance of
Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums––and immediately
became controversial when former Ocean World dolphin
trainer Doug Cook reported having been told by an unidenti-
fied source in Honduras that six of the dolphins including
Trouble had immediately been resold to the Isla Mujares
resort near Cancun. Cook’s story was amplified by another
former Ocean World trainer, Russ Rector, who according to
Cook was fired in the mid-1970s for allegedly withholding
food from dolphins and reselling it as bait, but is now best
known as head of the Dolphin Freedom Foundation. Rector
had wanted to rehabilitate the dolphins for return to the wild.
At request of NAMMPA executive director Marilee
Keefe, Schwindaman asked a USDA staffer stationed in
Honduras as part of an international screwworm eradication
program to verify the dolphins’ whereabouts. On September
23, Roberto Guerra Cruz of the Honduran Secretariat of
Natural Resources counted the dolphins and faxed back to
Schwindaman that all were still at St. Anthony’s Key.
But not all were well. Two days later, Trouble
died of a sudden-onset pnuemonia, which she had apparently
incubated without visible symptoms for some time before her
transfer. Schwindaman’s office has volunteered to do labo-
ratory work to verify the exact cause of death, following up
an earlier necropsy.
Perhaps mainly because NAMMPA and American
Zoos and Aquariums favor the transfer of marine mammal
inspection duties to APHIS, which already inspected their
non-marine mammal exhibits, the change is widely decried.
Many animal protection groups question APHIS’ ability to
monitor marine mammal health and safety, a new area for
the staff even though APHIS inspectors have monitored the
care of other wildlife for decades. “Just watch us,” says
Schwindaman, who recently sent 40 APHIS veterinarians to
an intensive two-week course in marine mammalogy from
world-renowned cetacean and pinneped experts.
He also initiated a new approach to rulemaking, as
part of a planned revision of marine mammal care regula-
tions. Instead of going through the usual procedure of hold-
ing hearings, drafting regulations, calling for comments,
and then going through the sequence again with amend-
ments, Schwindaman hopes to achieve consensus first
through facilitated group meetings, bringing together all the
interested parties in a non-adversarial atmosphere. Despite
some fundamental differences of principle, Schwindaman
believes, “The interested parties aren’t so very far apart
when it comes to enforcement mechanisms and regulatory
standards. These are differences we can work on. The facili-
tated meetings are expensive, but it’s the first time they’ve
been tried, and we think we have a real chance for progress
if we can build good faith and mutual respect.”
Certainly those who think Schwindaman’s office is
just going to rubber-stamp anything marine mammal
exhibitors want to do are in for a surprise. Schwindaman
doesn’t mince words about his discomfort with cetacean cap-
tures for exhibit. “We shouldn’t have to be doing that,” he
says, strongly indicating that in principle he favors cetacean
captures only when and if genuinely necessary to conserve a
species. Otherwise, he believes, marine mammals on
exhibit should be either rescued animals, e.g. from strand-
ings, or captive-bred. “Some limited captures may be neces-
sary from time to time for legitimate conservation reasons,”
Schwindaman allows, “but we’re going to be monitoring the
applications very closely.”
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