When I was a little girl, I was scared of the dark. I was sure there were demons lurking in my closet just waiting to get me. Fortunately I had my trusty dog as my loyal defender.

I am no longer afraid of the actual darkness, but I am of the figurative kind.

When it comes to powerless populations in the custody of others, “light” is a critical defender. Too commonly, underfunded or profit-driven institutions abuse their power and become cruel when their actions are hidden under a cloak of darkness.

We learned decades ago about the gruesome abuse suffered by people locked away in psychiatric institutions. Our newfound awareness of those abuses caused a national outcry.

When placing your parent in a nursing home or child in day care, you need to know there are monitored regulations to help ensure proper care. And knowing the violations helps us keep our loved ones safe.

The vulnerable depend on us. They cannot “vote with their feet.” Once inside, obscured from public view and often silenced, they become “sitting ducks.”

Transparency is the safeguard.

photo of a puppy from a puppy mill with a severely infected ear, copyright Rolling StoneWhich is why the recent action by the USDA to remove from their website all public record of inspections on puppy mill operators, research labs, roadside zoos, circuses, and horse shows –affecting millions of animals – is alarming.   

Animals can’t protect themselves. They can’t call the police to say “When I’m too sick to get up, they drag and kick me” or “They strangled my baby” or “I’m kept in a small cage covered in open sores lying in my own waste.”

It is a sad reality that without oversight even places designed to help animals do bad things. Right now, some animals are trapped in sick and scary shelters, left with painful, untreated injuries, and killed inhumanely. Recently, I learned that a nearby government-run shelter routinely hit dogs on the head with metal shovels to “calm them down.”

And these are supposed to be the good guys. Can you imagine what happens in commercial operations where there is no pretense of compassion? Where they don’t care that animals feel pain and fear just as we do? Where animals are simply a means to a financial end?

We already know the answer: brutality. The Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Welfare Act seek to prevent some of this brutality. And while oversight by the U.S.D.A. is vastly underfunded, it is one important way to fight rampant abuse by licensed operators. The published inspections, suddenly taken down due to “privacy concerns,” helped us keep an eye on offenders, let consumers know where not to spend their money, and created a business incentive for improvement.

Since when do “privacy concerns” trump known violations of federal law? You can learn with a few keystrokes if your favorite restaurant left a dirty scoop in the ice… but not if a federally licensed breeder is mistreating dogs?  As for their suggestion that the information be obtained through a FOIA request, I can only say “LOL.”

In one swift move, the Administration took away a ray of desperately needed light shined on industries that depend on the dark to continue their dirty deeds.

When it comes to the defenseless, demons do lurk in the dark.  We, their loyal defenders, need to keep fighting to protect our animal brethren.