Last year, we joined animal
welfare and rescue groups all across the nation in asking you to contact the
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and urge them to close the Animal Welfare
Act loophole that allowed internet, phone, and mail pet sellers to escape USDA
regulation and minimum standards of care.
According to the USDA,
during the 90-day comment period, they received more than 210,000 comments and
213,000 signatures on petitions submitted by organizations supporting or
opposing the proposed rule.
happy to tell you that the USDA listened! On 10 September 2013, they
revised and updated definition of retail pet store under the Animal
Welfare Act to help ensure the health and humane treatment of pet animals sold
sight unseen via phone, internet, and mail!
Briefly, the USDA Animal
Welfare Act (AWA) previously only required licensing of dog, cat, and small
mammal breeders who sold wholesale to brokers, pet stores, or laboratories.
Prior to the internet, it was felt that pet stores did not have to be licensed,
because sellers could visit the premises and see first- hand the puppies they
As the internet made "Direct
to public" sales (phone order, mail order, and internet) easier and more
lucrative, these sellers claimed retail pet store status, exempting
themselves from both oversight by consumers and compliance with the USDA
minimum standards of care.
fact, in 2010 Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit found that more than 80
percent of sampled breeders were not licensed under the AWA because they sold
pets over the Internet and claimed retail pet store status.
"Recommendation 12" at the end of the report advises that
"Internet breeders [be excluded] from the definition of retail pet
store, and require that all applicable breeders or brokers who sell
through the Internet be regulated under AWA." (Read the entire report here. CAUTION: this report contains
some very graphic photos and examples of violations that may be upsetting to
some readers. )
The new 2013 regulation restores the definition of retail
pet store to its original intent: "a place of business or residence at
which the seller, buyer and the animal available for sale are physically
present so that the buyer may personally observe the animal and help ensure its
health prior to purchasing or taking custody of it."
and mortar pet stores under this definition will continue to be exempt
from federal licensing and inspection requirements under the Animal Welfare
Act. However, Internet based businesses and other businesses that maintain more
than four breeding females (dogs, cats or small exotic/wild pocket pets) and
sell animals sight unseen as pets* must now be licensed and inspected by the
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to ensure the pets they sell
to the public receive minimum standards of care.
For a brief overview of the
new rule, please see USDA Final Rule FAQ (pdf). If you are interested, you
can also read the entire USDA Docket No. APHIS-2011-0003 (actual rule & process)
Here in Wisconsin, we have an
outstanding dog seller law which applies to EVERYONE in our state who sells
over 25 dogs per year from more than three litters.
2009 Wisconsin Act 90 requires
licensing regardless of how or where dogs are sold, whether to brokers, in
traditional pet stores, or via newspaper ads, flea markets, signs along the
road, and over the internet. Unlike the new USDA rule and the original Animal
Welfare Act, Act 90 applies to rescues, shelters, and animal control facilities
USDA/ AWA amendment will not provide the protection for dogs that WI Act 90
does for Wisconsin dogs, but it is a start! It closes up one huge loophole
behind which dog sellers in other states have been operating unrestricted,
PLUS, it adds protection for cats and "little critters" that,
unfortunately, WI does not have yet in its state statutes.
University of Wisconsin-Madison zoologist and expert on animal behavior, has
written a very informative analysis on the effect of the new USDA rule on
reputable hobby breeders, particularly in the context of Wisconsin's two-year
experience with regulation. Please see:
The Other End of the Leash: USDA Internet Sale Regulations.
Patricia McConnell: USDA Internet Sale
10 Sept 2013 USDA Press
USDA Final Rule FAQ
USDA Docket No.
APHIS-2011-0003 (actual rule & process) (pdf)
2009 Wisconsin Act 90