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Animal welfare reports removed from USDA website

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WLOS) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) removal of animal welfare reports from its website has drawn fire from a North Carolina animal rights group.

Those reports often detailed treatment of animals in puppy mills, circuses, labs, and other situations in which their health and safety is in question.

Denise Bitz of Brother Wolf Animal Rescue says about 25 percent of Brother Wolf's animals come from puppy mills. She told News 13 she regularly checked the USDA animal welfare reports.

"When we've gotten reports, complaints from the community about certain breeders, suspected puppy mills, and we've been able to go online and pull reports - when they were there - to see the inspections that have been done," Bitz said.

Those reports were online until Friday. Bitz says the removal is a "tragedy for animals across the country."

USDA spokesperson Tanya Espinosa said the move was a year in the making. She added the animal welfare reports are available for anyone submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

"As we all know, those can take a long time," Bitz said of the FOIA requests. "They can take up to years."

Espinosa also points out the concern for an individual's privacy. But Bitz said many things in the reports were already private.

"People's personal information, their location, a lot of that is already hidden. So, when they're saying they are trying to protect privacy, I think that is very misleading," Bitz said.

Bitz urges anyone who is concerned about this issue to contact their local lawmakers.

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