The Obama administration today took a major step to improve the treatment of thousands of dogs languishing in large-scale commercial puppy mills. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a final rule to close a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act regulations which currently requires breeders selling wholesale to pet stores to be federally licensed and inspected, but leaves those selling directly to the public over the Internet completely unregulated.
Unscrupulous puppy mill operators have been migrating to the Internet to escape even the most basic and minimal standards of animal care. They often set up misleading web sites showing pictures of puppies frolicking in open fields, while the reality is much grimmer—dogs confined in cramped cages, without exercise, companionship, socialization, or veterinary care. The rule, which will take effect 60 days after it’s published in the Federal Register, will level the playing field for commercial breeders, regardless of whether they sell to pet stores or directly to consumers.
The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund, and other groups have been pushing for this policy reform for years, and generated more than 350,000 comments from members of the public supporting the rule change. We are especially grateful to the bipartisan congressional leaders—Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and David Vitter, R-La., and Reps. Jim Gerlach, R-Pa., Sam Farr, D-Calif., Bill Young, R-Fla., and Lois Capps, D-Calif.—who introduced and championed the Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety (PUPS) Act, S. 395 and H.R. 847, to close this Internet puppy mill loophole. With USDA taking action on the rule, it essentially achieves the same reform sought by the PUPS Act.
As Sen. Durbin said, “Too often, the media reports stories about dogs rescued from substandard facilities—where puppies are housed in stacked wire cages and routinely denied access to veterinary care. Unfortunately, online dog sales have contributed to the rise of these sad cases. Today’s announcement by the USDA brings much needed oversight to the previously unregulated business of online breeders and puppy mills. This is an important step towards ensuring that all dogs—whether they are sold online or in a pet store – are treated with care and compassion.”
Sen. Vitter added, “I applaud USDA’s work to close loopholes that unscrupulous breeders exploited with Internet sales. Finalizing this rule is a big step forward in ensuring that puppies are treated humanely and bred in safe and sanitary facilities, and that consumers can purchase healthy pets for their families.”
Rep. Farr said, “By a small rule change, the USDA has taken a huge step toward regulating and reforming online puppy mills. Animals depend on us to safeguard their welfare and protect them from abuse, neglect and other forms of mistreatment. By changing the definition of retail pet store, the USDA will now have the authorization needed to inspect puppy mills and enforce the standards of animal well-being laid out by the Animal Welfare Act.”
It’s an important day for dog protection and for the fight against abusive puppy mills. Thanks to USDA and the White House for finalizing this important policy, to the congressional leaders who elevated the issue and made the case for reform, and to the thousands of animal advocates who took action on the issue and submitted comments in support of the rule. It demonstrates the importance of staying power, with groups and individuals remaining focused on the issue for years and pushing it over the finish line.