Tales of the Red Tape #40: The USDA Rabbit Police
Diane Katz /
There’s no good way to deliver this disturbing bit of news except to come right out with it: Marty the Magician and others in the business of pulling a rabbit from a hat are under strict orders from the federal government to develop a “contingency plan” for handling their critters in the event of a natural or man-made disaster.
And, no, a recipe for Hasenpfeffer won’t suffice.
Said plan will be evaluated once a year, when enforcers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) make their annual unannounced bunny home inspections. Oh, and all magicians are required to carry a copy of the contingency plan at all times and make it available for inspection while in “travel status.” After all, animal owners might want to consult the rabbit-rescue protocol amid the chaos of saving their families from a deadly hurricane or tornado.
With the July 29 compliance deadline looming, the USDA recently sent Marty the Magician (aka Marty Hahne of Springfield, Missouri) an eight-page communiqué detailing requirements for the plan, which must:
- Identify common emergencies most likely to occur,
- Outline specific tasks required to be carried out in response to each of the identified emergencies,
- Identify a chain of command and who (by name or by position title) will be responsible for fulfilling these tasks, and
- Address how response and recovery will be handled in terms of materials, resources, and training needs.
All of which means that Marty must prepare for all the calamities that could possibly befall Casey the Rabbit while making the rounds of more than 150 performance venues he visits each year, including schools, libraries, churches, and homes.
The goal of the rule, according to the USDA, is to “increase the regulated community’s awareness and understanding about their responsibilities to protect their animals in emergency situations.” (That might seem reasonable enough only if one assumes that animal owners have absolutely no desire to protect their furry friends—or their investments.) But the agency also acknowledges that “many” animal handlers developed and implemented contingency plans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina—some seven years before the government issued its mandate.
Alas, this isn’t Marty’s first encounter with the bunny patrol. By law, magicians must be licensed by the federal government to use rabbits in their acts, as specified in Title 9, Chapter I, Subchapter A, Parts 1-4 of the Animal Welfare Act.
Marty’s first home inspection didn’t go so well. He was written up because Casey’s travel cage lacked stickers indicating “live animal” and the arrows pointing upward (in the event he’s tempted to carry the cage upside down). When questioning the enforcement action, Marty was warned that verbal abuse of an inspector carries a fine of $1,000 per incident.
One might be forgiven for thinking (hoping!) this hare-brained regulation is an anomaly. It isn’t. In reality, the bunny rule epitomizes the incessant expansion of government interference in our lives. In the Obama Administration’s first term alone, the cost of major regulations increased by $70 billion annually—and that’s just for 131 of the thousands of rules actually issued. If only they could disappear with the wave of a magic wand.