USDA tightens regulations for Internet sales by breeders

Online pet sales have been operating in a legal netherworld that has exempted puppy mill breeders who sell animals over the Internet from the minimal kennel operating standards prescribed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Web shopping convenience is a boon and a blessing, especially for those of us who live in out-of-the-way communities, such as Kanab, Utah, and that convenience and accessibility have meant incredible things for our society as a whole, but have made the fight against unscrupulous animal breeders much more difficult. Those who commercially breed dogs, cats and rabbits and sell them over the Internet have been taking advantage of a loophole in the law.

That is at least until now.

Thanks to you and your powerful voice, the USDA has finally closed that Internet loophole. So for the first time in history, roughly 5,000 breeders who were previously allowed to sell without any regulations now will fall under restrictions placed on them by the USDA. No longer does a “retail pet store” only mean a brick-and-mortar location, and the USDA has recognized this societal shift.

This is an enormous win for the animals! These breeders represent millions of animals produced each year. Many breeders were using this loophole to blatantly skirt the law, even going so far as to give up their conventional USDA license, and taking solely to the Internet to sell. All so they wouldn’t have to comply with even the very basic standards of care ordered by the government. According to the USDA, a 2010 audit of dog breeders found that 80 percent of the breeders sampled were not being monitored or inspected.

Of course, enforcement still is a concern, but we believe voluntary compliance alone will mean a tremendous impact. We also hope that the new revenue generated from the licensing will translate to more inspectors to keep these breeders in line.

Even though the concern was made clear by breeding organizations about this move, it in no way changes things for the responsible breeders. In fact, it actually allows those responsible breeders to have four breeding females, instead of three, before they must be licensed. This law is targeted at commercial breeding operations breeding animals at obscenely high volumes.

It’s hard to underestimate what this decision means for the fight against puppy mills. This is the culmination of years of work of organizations like Best Friends and others, and the combined voices of reason of hundreds of thousands of animal advocates. Just as we said in a blog post earlier this month, politics is not a spectator sport!