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USDA poised to close puppy mill loophole

Puppy mills are a cruel disgrace. Overcrowding, overbreeding, congenital diseases and neglect are rampant throughout the commercial breeding industry. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations are weak and poorly enforced. In the states that have additional breeder regulations, most of those do little to alter the basic fact that the economy of scale that makes puppy mills profitable depends on savings that come at the expense of the animals.

USDA regulations make it possible for a miller to keep a dog the size of beagle in a cage the size of a dishwasher 24/7 for his or her entire life. And while even those marginal standards are poorly enforced, at least those breeders registered with state regulators and the USDA are on the radar and are accountable for a minimum standard of care.

What most of the general public does not know is that there is an entire class of puppy miller that does not have to register their operations or operate to any standards of care whatsoever.

The Animal Welfare Act, which covers operating conditions for commercial breeders, only requires that dog breeders who sell wholesale to pet shops or brokers be licensed and inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If breeders sell animals directly to the public via the Internet, or by phone or mail, they can operate virtually under the radar, and don’t have to provide even minimum standards of care for their dogs. Such direct-sell puppy millers have stepped through a giant loophole that regards these operations as retailers rather than breeders.

As public disgust at the well-documented abuses of commercial breeders continues to erode the viability of retail pet stores as the “happy” face of a hideous business, more and more breeders are heading for the Internet as a way to cut out the middlemen (the distributor and the pet store owner); avoid health, safety and minimum care standards; and make a whole lot more money by shipping directly to the public.

If the regulated puppy mills can generate the gut-wrenching cases of abuse that drive calls for reform, one can only imagine the conditions and cruelty found in entirely unregulated mills.

However, hope is on the horizon. The USDA has recently proposed a rule to close this loophole by requiring commercial breeders and dealers who sell to members of the public “sight unseen,” including those who sell over the phone or via the Internet, be licensed and inspected, and provide the same basic standards of care as those who sell wholesale to pet stores.

Such a move is an important first step in corralling the thousands of large-scale breeding operations that currently evade any standards-of-care oversight. Going forward, it will make federal reform meaningful because it will actually apply to all puppy mill operations, not just those that sell through distributors and pet stores.

Please help us put an end to unlicensed puppy mills. Contact the USDA today with your message of concern.

Julie Castle, CEO of Best Friends Animal Society Julie Castle
CEO
Best Friends Animal Society