USDA-APHIS revises Animal Welfare Act to include Internet pet sales

Online 'puppy mills' now subject to department oversight.
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Sep 16, 2013
By dvm360.com staff

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced Sept. 10 a revision to the 1966 Animal Welfare Act to include protection of animals bought via the Internet. The revised rule updates the definition of a retail pet store to what the USDA-APHIS says is its original intent: a place of business or residence where the seller, buyer and animal available for sale are physically present. This enables the buyer to personally observe the animal and its health prior to purchase or adoption.

The regulation is aimed squarely at breeding operations negatively referred to as “puppy mills” and it will go into effect sooner than pending federal legislation known as the PUPS Act or the Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety Act, also intended to close the “Internet loophole” in the Animal Welfare Act. The USDA-APHIS says traditional, “brick and mortar” pet stores will continue to be exempt from federal licensing and inspection requirements under the Animal Welfare Act. However, Internet-based businesses and other businesses that sell animals sight unseen must now be licensed and inspected by APHIS to ensure the pets they sell to the public receive minimum standards of care.

The revised rule was prompted by an Office of Inspector General audit on dog breeders. “The 2010 audit found that more than 80 percent of sampled breeders were not being monitored or inspected to ensure their animals’ overall health and humane treatment resulting in some buyers receiving unhealthy pets—especially dogs. Instead, these breeders were selling pets over the Internet and claiming ‘retail pet store’ status, exempting themselves from oversight by both consumers and APHIS,” a USDA-APHIS release states.

“Requiring these breeders to adhere to the Animal Welfare Act standards is important because we know that if the federal standards are being met, the animals are getting humane care and treatment,” Ed Avalos, under secretary for marketing and regulatory programs, says. “By revising the definition of retail pet store to better suit today’s marketplace, we will now improve the welfare of more pet animals sold sight-unseen.”

The updated rule also increases the number of breeding females a breeder can maintain and still be considered a hobby breeder from three to four. Breeders with more than four breeding females (dogs, cats or small exotic/wild pocket pets) are required to be licensed under the Animal Welfare Act. According to the USDA-APHIS, this will allow the APHIS to better concentrate its resources on ensuring the welfare of animals at larger breeding operations.