Animal lovers are flooding social media with photos of their pets to express their opposition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s decision last week removing animal welfare inspection records from public view on its website.
The now-hidden database ― which includes information about animal welfare violations at zoos, research laboratories and commercial breeders ― was a valuable resource for journalists and animal advocacy groups. The USDA cited concerns about privacy as the reason for its decision, and some people have speculated that the department felt pressured by ongoing litigation with those who raise show horses.
After days of public outcry, USDA spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa said Wednesday that the decision is “not final,” noting that “adjustments may be made regarding information appropriate for releasing and posting.”
In the meantime, the Twitter account AltUSDA — which describes itself as “resisting the censorship of facts and science” — is encouraging its followers to post pet photos to protest the decision. It suggested the hashtag #NoUSDAblackout, among others.
The huge response has featured all sorts of animals from all kinds of backgrounds, including dogs, cats, horses, rabbits and at least one ferret.
Some of the most powerful photos show animals rescued from the very kinds of places that now have their records shielded from public view — research labs and large-scale breeding operations, known as puppy mills, where many animals are kept in terrible conditions.
The photos pile on to the opposition that the USDA has faced since taking its records down. The Humane Society of the United States said Monday that it would take legal action if the records were not reinstated within 30 days, and lawmakers like Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) have criticized the move.
The USDA website notes that the records are still available via Freedom of Information Act requests, although those can take months or even years to process. Additionally, thousands of older records are still viewable via the Wayback Machine Internet Archive and on the blog The Memory Hole.