If you’re searching for a puppy or kitten online, you may not realize that the pretty websites selling pets are usually a front for kitten and puppy mills. As Internet commerce has exploded, laws regulating Internet pet sales lagged behind – until this week. Pet breeders involved in Internet pet sales must now face the same scrutiny as all other breeders licensed under the USDA thanks to a change in the Animal Welfare Act.
Under the new regulations, Internet-based businesses and other businesses that sell animals sight unseen must now be licensed and inspected. The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) will ensure the pets they sell to the public through Internet pet sales receive minimum standards of care.
Regulating the Wild West
“For several years, I’ve referred to the Internet as the Wild West because no one has been minding the store,” says Cari Meyers, founder of The Puppy Mill Project. “Consumers were constantly being lied to about the origin of the dogs – they’re always posing on red velvet with a pretty bow. In reality, they’re being bred in hellholes. It’s about time we dispel the myth of where the dogs come from.”
Prior to the change in the 40-year-old Animal Welfare Act, online pet sellers were being lumped with pet stores because they sold pets. The problem was, the majority of the Internet pet sales are really just fronts for backyard breeders or puppy mills. And, those breeding pets for Internet pet sites were not being inspected or regulated.
An audit by the Office of Inspector General three years ago found that over 80 percent of sample breeders selling on the Internet were not being monitored. No one was ensuring the pets’ overall health or that the pets were being treated humanely.
Watching out for consumers
“We’re ecstatic that the USDA realized that there was no oversight on the Internet and that something had to be done for consumers,” adds Meyers. “This is a big, bold step that needs to be taken and I think there are a lot of these mills and backyard breeders that will be going out of business. This will affect consumers in a positive way and cruel puppy millers in a negative way – they will have to abide by the same rules as the "breeders" not selling on the Internet.”
Traditional brick and mortar pet stores will continue to be exempt from federal licensing and inspection requirements under the Animal Welfare Act. Other groups that will be exempt include rescue groups, shelters, humane societies and animal controls. Those who breed and sell working dogs and those that buy and sell farm animals for food or fiber are also not covered.
The new regulations will increase the number of breeding females needed before requiring a license from three to four. This will allow APHIS to better focus its resources on ensuring the welfare of animals at larger breeding operations.
What remains to be seen is how APHIS will be able to monitor the additional breeding operations. There already is a shortage of USDA inspectors and not enough inspections and oversight of the current mills licensed in the U.S. Most of the puppy mills currently regulated by the USDA are failing to provide the animals in their care with proper nutrition, socialization and veterinary care.
Puppy Mill Awareness Day
Sunday, September 22 is Puppy Mill Awareness Day. The Puppy Mill Project and rescues from throughout the Midwest will march on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue starting at noon. The march starts in front of Tribune Tower and proceeds to Water Tower Place before returning. You may register to participate here.
The organization’s fundraising walk will be held on October 20th in Highland Park. Details are here.
Here are some other stories on the topic -
Writer's note - September is National Puppy Mill Awareness Month. Throughout the month, I'll be doing blog posts that look at puppy mills, puppy mill rescues and changes in laws aimed at outlawing puppy mills and protecting consumers.