Submitted by the Office of Congressman Sam Farr
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced Tuesday that it is adopting new regulations to oversee the sale of puppies on the internet. The new rules are based on legislation authored by Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, the Ranking Member on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture.
The new regulations simply update the 40-year-old definition of a retail pet store under the Animal Welfare Act. Traditional brick and mortar pet stores are exempted from federal licensing and inspection requirements. Online breeders were exploiting this loophole by claiming retail pet store status and selling dogs sight unseen to consumers. This practice allowed breeders to avoid oversight by both consumers and the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
“By a small rule change, the USDA has taken a huge step toward regulating and reforming online puppy mills,” said Rep. Farr. “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.”
The new definition of a retail pet store is defined as a place of business or residence at which the seller, buyer and the animal available for sale are physically present so that the buyer may personally observe the animal and help ensure its health prior to purchasing or taking custody of it.
“Internet sellers of dogs show the animals frolicking in grassy fields, but our investigations paint an entirely different picture: mother dogs, bred incessantly, confined in small wire cages, denied veterinary care, and exposed to extremes of heat and colds,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “Pressure from Congress helped plug the gaping hole in our federal laws relating to inspections of puppy mill operators.”
Many animal rescue groups, pounds, shelters and humane societies will continue to be exempt from APHIS regulations. Also exempt are the following: people who breed and sell working dogs; people selling rabbits for food, fiber (including fur) or for the preservation of bloodlines; children who raise rabbits as part of a 4-H project; operations that raise, buy and sell farm animals for food or fiber (including fur); and businesses that deal only with fish, reptiles and other cold-blooded animals.
The change in regulations will also increase from three to four the number of breeding females (dogs, cats or small exotic/wild pocket pets) that people may maintain before they would be required to be licensed under the Animal Welfare Act. This will allow APHIS to better concentrate its resources on ensuring the welfare of animals at larger breeding operations. Breeders who maintain four or fewer breeding females are considered hobby breeders who already provide sufficient care to their animals without APHIS’ oversight – provided they only sell the offspring of animals born and raised on their premises for pets or exhibition.
APHIS already regulates the commercial sale of pet animals on the wholesale side to ensure that animals bred at wholesale facilities are receiving humane care and treatment.
Sam Farr (D) represents the Central Coast—including Santa Cruz, Capitola, Soquel, Watsonville and Gilroy—in Congress.