Consumers, Pets at Risk as IL Senate Bill 1882 Opens Puppy Mill Loopholes, Threatens Existing Humane Ordinances

On February 10, 2017, Animal Welfare Bill SB 1882/HB 2824 was introduced to the Illinois Senate, ostensibly as a microchipping act (a good thing). However, also embedded in the bill are proposed amendments to the Animal Welfare Act which present a severe threat to those working to pass (and keep) Humane Ordinances which would prevent the sale of dogs and cats from breeding mills. The full text of the proposed bill can be read here. The proposed amendments to the existing act are in green text.

Pay special attention to Sections 3.8 which concerns the sourcing of pets for resale by pet stores. On the surface, the uneducated reader may not see a problem, as pet store owners are mandated to refrain from doing business with any dealers who have violated USDA breeder regulations. Here is what you need to know about what that means:

In order to vet their dealers, pet shop owners are required to use the search tool available via the USDA to see it the breeder has any recent violations. They are considered to be acting in good faith as long as they use the search tool when placing an order. Fair enough. But here is where it gets interesting (read: horrifying).

The USDA search tool has been deactivated indefinitely and the amendment specifically states that pet shop owners are off the hook if they can't use the search tool.

In the language of the act (page 9):

A pet shop operator, dog dealer, or cattery operator is in compliance with this Section [3.8] if the United States Department of Agriculture website is unavailable through no fault of the pet shop operator, dog dealer, or cattery operator

The amendment goes on to say that the pet shop owner should get the most recent report when the site is functional again but what if the site has been indefinitely suspended?

When  you go to the USDA site and click on the USDA Animal Care Search Tool, you will see a pop up window which explains:

Editor’s Note (Revised Feb. 7, 2017) The review of APHIS’ (Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service) website has been ongoing, and the agency is striving to balance the need for transparency with rules protecting individual privacy. In 2016, well before the change of Administration, APHIS decided to make adjustments to the posting of regulatory records. In addition, APHIS is currently involved in litigation concerning, among other issues, information posted on the agency’s website. While the agency is vigorously defending against this litigation, in an abundance of caution, the agency is taking additional measures to protect individual privacy. These decisions are not final. Adjustments may be made regarding information appropriate for release and posting.

While this deactivation will be in existence, presumably, while all court proceedings are underway, this is how one can get information on breeders:

Those seeking information from APHIS regarding inspection reports, research facility annual reports, regulatory correspondence, and enforcement records should submit Freedom of Information Act requests for that information.  Records will be released when authorized and in a manner consistent with the FOIA and Privacy Act.  If the same records are frequently requested via the Freedom of Information Act process, APHIS may post the appropriately redacted versions to its website.  In addition, some enforcement records (such as initial decision and orders, default decisions, and consent decisions) are available on the USDA’s Office of Administrative Law Judge’s website. 

Did you see the 'records will be released when authorized' part? It is highly unlikely, particularly since they would be under absolutely NO legal obligation to do so, that a pet store owner would do this kind of digging to see what the current status is of the breeders from whom they are ordering puppies and kittens. Their obligation ends when they visit the site and say, "Oops, still deactivated," and move on to place their order.

And even IF the violation search function gets reactivated, does that mean puppy mills will come to an end and that all breeders will be humane?

Not at all.

Dogs and cats are considered livestock, just like pigs, cows, sheep. That's just the reality. And if  you have heard to pig gestation crates, the USDA gives comparable regulations for the housing of breeding dogs.  (Full text of the Animal Welfare Act here.) In Section 3.6 (c)(1):

Each dog housed in a primary enclosure (including weaned puppies) must be provided a minimum amount of floor space, calculated as follows: Find the mathematical square of the sum of the length of the dog in inches (measured from the tip of its nose to the base of its tail) plus 6 inches; then divide the product by 144. The calculation is: (length of dog in inches + 6) × (length of dog in inches + 6) = required floor space in square inches.

Cats get 3 sq. ft. of space if they are under 8.8 pounds or 4 sq ft. if they are over that weight.

Further, the most recent audit by APHIS on Inspections of Problematic Breeders reveals many problems within the inspection and citation process itself. Please see my prior blog post on this topic for additional info an links.

But places with Humane Ordinances like Chicago, Cook County, Waukegan and Warrenville are protected, right?

Not so fast, Sparky.  Let's look at SB 1882's "Home Rule" section which states that because animal welfare is a statewide concern...

A home rule unit may not regulate the sourcing of dogs and cats sold by pet shop operators, dog dealers, or cattery operators. This Section is a denial and limitation of home rule powers and functions under subsection (h) of Section 6 of Article VII of the Illinois Constitution.

Concerned? Let your representative know. Best Friends Legislative Action Center has a list of pending acts by state. Here is the page for SB1882/HB 2824, with online options for you to contact your representatives.

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Filed under: Puppy Mills

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