Thursday, July 12, 2012

Help us protect puppies sold over the internet!

Nancy Perry, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), is Senior Vice President of ASPCA Government Relations, where she oversees the ASPCA's legislative efforts and public policy at the local, state and federal levels. Under Nancy's leadership, the team works closely with lawmakers and citizen advocates to secure the strongest possible protections for animals through the passage of humane legislation and regulations.

For decades, I have worked closely with animal advocates who have agonized about the plight of dogs stuck in puppy mills (large-scale breeding facilities) living lives of misery. We have lamented the fact that, because the federal law predates the Internet, it has a massive loophole leaving several thousands of dogs sold online with absolutely no protections. We've been to courtrooms and to Congress, held hearings, briefings and press conferences ... but we have not yet found a way to fix this law to provide these dogs with even basic standards of care. But this year, there is reason for hope that we might literally save lives by finally closing the loophole.
The loophole
Currently, a gaping loophole in federal law exempts commercial breeders who sell dogs directly to consumers from any federal oversight. The law only requires breeders who sell dogs to pet stores or puppy brokers to be licensed and inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), leaving breeding dogs stuck in puppy mills and the puppies sold directly to the public over the Internet, over the phone, or in newspaper ads completely unprotected.

What this means is that in many cases, no one is checking up on breeders who sell puppies directly to consumers over the Internet or via other mediums. As the ASPCA has seen firsthand, the photos of happy, healthy puppies posted on a breeder's website often grossly misrepresent what conditions are really like for these puppies and their parents. Thousands of dogs bred and raised by Internet and other retail breeders are often deprived of their most basic needs including clean water, space to move freely, and adequate veterinary care. The result of this irrational policy is that every day, amazing shelters and rescues around the country, including those in the Petfinder community, are forced to deal first-hand with the repercussions of inhumane breeding by rescuing, rehabilitating, and rehoming thousands of dogs from puppy mills. It is critically important that the USDA has the authority to oversee commercial breeders who exploit and mistreat animals for commercial gain, exacerbating the already staggering burden faced by shelters and rescues.

Why was there a loophole?Due to the wording of the federal Animal Welfare Act -- passed 40 years ago, before the existence of the Internet -- a large and growing population of commercial breeders has been able to escape licensing and regulation. Lawmakers drafting the Animal Welfare Act in the 1960s exempted retail pet stores from regulation, reasoning that oversight by customers would sufficiently protect animals -- if a pet store had a reputation for mistreating animals or the animals did not appear healthy, no one would patronize the business and it would fail. "Retail pet store" was later defined by USDA to include anyone selling puppies directly to the public, even if they are also the breeder.

What the drafters of the Animal Welfare Act did not foresee was the sale of puppies over the Internet and the ease with which these sales would allow retail breeders to sell unimaginable numbers of dogs without the customer ever laying eyes on his or her new pet prior to purchase or ever having the opportunity to observe the conditions in the kennel.

The fixIn mid-May, the USDA proposed a new rule to close this huge regulatory loophole! The proposed rule represents a meaningful effort by the USDA to target problematic, large-scale breeding operations that sell puppies to the public, sight unseen, by requiring these breeders to meet the minimum care standards of the Animal Welfare Act.

Under the proposed rule, breeders raising and selling dogs to customers who are not allowed to observe the animal available for sale on the facility's property would no longer be able to escape USDA licensing and inspections. These breeders would also be subject to penalties of up to $10,000 for each violation of the law. Closing this loophole is essential for the protection of thousands of dogs who have been vulnerable for far too long.

How you can helpSupport the USDA's efforts to protect puppies sold over the Internet by retail breeders! Visit ASPCA for more information on the proposed rule and to submit a comment in support of the USDA's proposed rule!

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