By: Governmental Relations Division staff
On Sept. 10, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its long-awaited rule that revises the definition of a “retail pet store” under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to include breeders who sell their pets online. The new rule, which will take effect in 60 days, aims to provide better oversight of the living conditions in which animals are bred in order to better ensure their health and welfare.
The USDA originally defined a retail pet store more than 40 years ago when the Internet did not exist. Under that definition, retail pet stores were exempt from the provisions within the AWA, which mandates minimal living standards for animals, because the buyer could see the animals prior to purchase, helping to ensure that they were in healthy condition. Since the advent of Internet commerce, many breeders began selling their animals “sight-unseen,” but still classified themselves as retail pet stores, meaning they were not subject to USDA oversight. This has often resulted in substandard living conditions for the animals involved, and upset pet owners who purchased pets before realizing the extent of veterinary care that will be needed.
The USDA’s newly issued rule, originally proposed in May 2012, will close this loophole in the regulation and provide greater oversight of online breeders. Specifically, the rule will require that retailers who breed more than four females (dogs, cats, or small exotic/wild pocket pets) and sell their offspring by mail or over the phone will need to apply for a USDA permit, pay an annual licensing fee and consent to random inspections. The USDA has said that by targeting retailers who breed more than four females, they will better be able to concentrate their resources on inspecting large-scale breeders.
AVMA has been actively working to update the definition of a retail pet store—both through regulatory and legislative means. In an August 2012 letter to the USDA, AVMA expressed concern that pets being sold online were not receiving humane treatment and encouraged the USDA to update its rule:
“We were struck and disheartened by the information provided in the table…which suggests that, based on an analysis of pre-licensing inspections for wholesale breeders, dogs in as many as 16 percent of those facilities may not have been receiving appropriate veterinary care; while 16 percent and 13 percent of those facilities lacked compliance with the Animal Welfare Act’s (AWA) minimal standards for facility maintenance and sanitation, respectively. In addition to providing appropriate veterinary care and ensuring that facilities are clean and well-maintained, it seems an inherent responsibility of those breeding and raising animals (whether for the public or other purposes) to ensure that the animals are appropriately housed, fed, watered, transported and otherwise cared for.”
The AVMA also supports the Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety (PUPS) Act (H.R. 847/ S. 395), which would subject large-scale dog breeders to regulation under the AWA.