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.
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
In 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 help
Support 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!