Government Shutdown Impacting Animals Too

The National Zoo's panda cub is held by a staff member in September.
Abby Wood, National Zoo
The National Zoo's panda cub is held by a staff member in September.

The closure of the National Zoo — and its Panda Cam — made for some of the splashiest headlines in the first days of the government shutdown. But the zoo is far from the only animal-related institution to suffer while lawmakers argue over funding the federal government.

From dolphin research to therapy dogs, Vetstreet has rounded up some other programs involving animals that have been suspended during the shutdown.

No Therapy Dog Visits at NIH

One of the most heartbreaking programs to be halted has to be the therapy dog program at the Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland. The dogs in the program, who make visits to patients including kids with cancer, need to be seen by veterinarians on the staff at the NIH — unfortunately, those vets have been furloughed, reported NPR. As a result, the dogs aren’t making their rounds for now. Abbey Whetzel, whose son Sam is being treated for leukemia at NIH, said Sam is disappointed that he won’t be getting weekly visits from the dogs. “He really looks forward to the dogs coming,” she said. “He has a special fondness for the little dogs that can come and just sit on his bed and lay down and curl up with him.” Officials said the program will resume when the government is reopened.

Puppy Mill Investigations on Hold

The shutdown stopped USDA funding used to ensure animal safety by regulating the conditions at facilities for research labs, commercial breeders and dealers, and exhibitors of exotic animals, according to the Humane Society. In addition, the USDA’s website is dark during the shutdown, meaning the public can’t access animal-welfare inspection reports and violations. “With limited resources and less-than-vigorous enforcement under ordinary circumstances, we know that the shutdown is a terrible blow to dogs in puppy mills,” says Cori Menkin of the ASPCA’s Puppy Mills Campaign.    

Investigation Into Dolphin Deaths Hampered

With the mysterious East Coast bottlenose dolphin die-off reaching record numbers, the shutdown is now threatening to stall research into its cause. Many of the researchers collecting samples from the deceased dolphins have been furloughed; those who are still working are faced with a huge backlog. There’s a definite window of opportunity to gather the needed samples from the specimen, and if the shutdown continues, vital information could be lost. More than 600 dolphins have already died in the “unusual morality event.”

Right Whales at Risk

Managers of state marine programs that rely on federal agencies for help with strandings are becoming concerned about the possibility of having to deal with stranded endangered right whales on their own. While the impact has been minimal so far, authorities in Georgia say they’re dependent on information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration during the right whale calving season in November. Also, the National Marine Fisheries Service has suspended a program that protects right whales from deadly ship strikes.

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