Op-Ed: WVDA Helping to Protect Pets like Babydog

Everyone has had the opportunity to get to know West Virginia’s unofficial pandemic mascot, Babydog. The one-year-old English bulldog has loaned her cuteness to the Governor as part of his campaign to convince folks to get vaccinated against COVID. This marketing tool works because it pulls at the heart strings of something we are all too familiar with, a beloved animal. From expensive toys to top notch care, most pet owners would do anything for their pet. This includes making sure they get quality nutrition from the food they eat. Ingredients listed on food labels guide us to understand if the pet food we buy is truly good for our animal. We can trust these labels because an entity has verified that these products are telling the whole truth. That trust falls to the West Virginia Department of Agriculture (WVDA) as part of our mission to protect our furry friends.

If a feed company wants to do business in the Mountain State, they must help fund the WVDA’s consumer protection initiative. This is important as there are 473 companies selling 10,751 products. That requires a lot of oversight to protect the animals we all care deeply about. The fees these pet manufactures are paying are also helping non-profits and local government control feral populations. Passed in 2017 by the Legislature, an additional fee was added for 10 years to provide grants for spay and neuter programs. These grants, administered by the Department of Agriculture, have been extremely successful, resulting in nearly 30,000 procedures to help control feral dogs and cats in West Virginia.

Our laboratories took it one step further during COVID by vigilantly looking for possible spreads of the virus to and from pets. As the public and media outlets tried to understand the potential spread to our pets, our staff conducted several investigations. This required working with local veterinarians as well as humane shelters to treat and verify results of potentially infected animals. The good news is we found no evidence there was spread to animals in West Virginia, but it was part of our mission to assist pandemic response and bring reassurance to the citizens of our state.

The Department also aids local law enforcement with animal welfare by either setting standards for livestock animal care or assisting with sensitive investigations. Even though authority to deal with animal welfare is left to law enforcement, most of the time these local departments do not have the resources to deal with large animal cases. Stretched budgets do not downplay the sensitivity or importance of cases and that is why law enforcement rely on the expertise of agencies such as the WVDA. Regardless of the size or breed of the animal, our staff is always ready to step in when animals are at risk.

West Virginia’s pet and livestock owners, including the Governor, want the reassurance that someone is keeping pet food companies honest and our animals safe. We want to know that when we open the can or bag of pet food that our pets are getting all the nutrition claimed on the label. That is where your WVDA comes in. Our staff works endlessly to keep pet owners’ minds at ease and our pets safe, regardless of whether it’s verifying food labels or stepping in to assist law enforcement. The WVDA is not just about farms and livestock – our mission is to protect all domesticated animals in the Mountain State.

Kent A. Leonhardt
West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture

The West Virginia Department of Agriculture protects plant, animal and human health through a variety of scientific, regulatory and consumer protection programs. The Commissioner of Agriculture is one of six statewide elected officials who sits on the Board of Public Works.