It may become much more difficult for puppy mill operators to sell their sick and mistreated dogs over the Internet.
On Thursday the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed a change to the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) that would make dog owners who breed more than four females and sell the puppies “sight unseen” either electronically, by mail or over the phone to be subject to the same regulations as wholesale dealers, according to the Associated Press.
The AWA protects warm-blooded animals, including those bred and sold as pets, from inhumane treatment and neglect. It is enforced by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
However, the law was written in 1966, long before the existence of the Internet.
Retail pet stores are exempted from APHIS inspections based on the reasoning that customers can witness if the animals are properly cared for. Puppy mill operators, who often keep their dogs in horrific conditions, have taken advantage of this loophole by selling their puppies online.
To stop this, the USDA – which was accused of being too lenient on puppy mill operators after a 2010 federal investigation – wants online pet sellers to be required to open their businesses so that customers can see the animals before they buy them. Otherwise the sellers must get a license and be inspected by the APHIS.
The proposed change will not apply to backyard breeders who sell puppies from their homes.
“We feel this is certainly a much-needed change to an outdated system,” Rebecca Blue, deputy undersecretary for the USDA’s marketing and regulatory programs, told the Associated Press. She said the change should “ensure that dogs sold and shipped to buyers are healthy, treated well and genetically sound.”
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), said in a news release, “This is a very significant proposed federal action, since thousands of large-scale breeders take advantage of a loophole that allows them to escape any federal inspections. Dogs in puppy mills often live in small, overcrowded cages, living in filth and denied veterinary care. We need more eyes on these operations, and this rule will help.”
Congress is already considering similar reform. The Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety (PUPS) Act (H.R. 835/S. 707) would also close the AWA loophole by requiring licenses and inspections for commercial breeders who sell 50 or more puppies per year online or otherwise. It also requires the dogs used for breeding purposes at commercial facilities to receive daily exercise.