By Chris Berry, Animal Legal
Defense Fund (ALDF)
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service took a significant step forward today for cats and dogs by closing the internet sale loophole to the Animal Welfare Act. This action is the result of an administrative process started by the Humane Society of the United States, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, and Doris Day Animal League. When those efforts led the USDA to propose changing its regulations in 2012, the Animal Legal Defense Fund joined the chorus along with Dentons, a well-respected law firm, by submitting a comment in favor of the proposed rule. ALDF also asked its supporters to send comments to the agency.
What is the internet sale loophole? The Animal Welfare Act generally requires that cat, dog, and other pet breeders obtain a license, comply with minimum standards of animal care, and submit to occasional inspections to verify compliance with the law. However, the Animal Welfare Act exempts retail pet stores under the logic that purchasers can see the animals’ living conditions first-hand so inspections are unnecessary.
Breeders take advantage of this exemption by selling pets online and claiming the website qualifies as a retail pet store. This leads to situations where there may be hundreds of dogs or other animals confined to tiny, unsanitary cages in subpar breeding facilities with no oversight to ensure minimum standards of care. Today’s USDA action closes that loophole by requiring the purchasers’ physical presence at the property before a breeder qualifies for the retail pet store exemption.
In its comment, ALDF also pushed USDA to go even further to protect animals by implementing policies to ensure robust enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act in light of a recent internal audit by the Office of Inspector General finding that the law is seriously under-enforced. We will review our options to press these issues in the future, but for now it is exciting that USDA heeded the voices of our community and took a significant step in the right direction.
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