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Tell APHIS to Extend AWA to Internet Sales of Companion Animals

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Originally Posted: June 22, 2012

Tell APHIS to Extend AWA to Internet Sales of Companion Animals

FROM Animal Welfare Institute (AWI)


At long last, USDA is finally taking steps to regulate dealers who sell companion animals via Internet, phone, or mail order. It is essential that USDA hear from animal advocates like you so that the Department does not weaken the final rule.

Individuals who profit from the sale of companion animals should be required to ensure that the animals are treated humanely. If the public cannot visit the property and view the animals, then these dealers must be required to abide by the minimum standards of care under the AWA and open their premises to USDA inspectors. However, there is opposition from commercial dealers who object to any effort to improve the health and welfare of these animals and to ensure that consumers are not being defrauded.

Please visit!documentDetail;D=APHIS-2011-0003-0001 to view the proposed rule in full and to submit comments. You can cut and paste the text below into the comment box or use it to write your own. Submissions must be received by July 16.


The explosion in Internet commerce has not bypassed the pet trade unfortunately. More and more people are buying dogs, cats, and other animals sight unseen through Internet, phone, and mail order sales. With this have come major concerns about the welfare of these animals (both those used for breeding and their offspring) and the sale of animals with serious health problems to unsuspecting consumers. These sellers have been hiding behind outdated regulations under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) that exempt certain sellers from having to comply with the minimum standards of the law and submit to inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

At long last, USDA is finally taking steps to regulate dealers who sell companion animals via Internet, phone, or mail order. 


I support USDA’s proposal to change the definition of “retail pet store” so that dealers who sell dogs, cats, and other animals online or via phone and mail order will have to comply with the Animal Welfare Act and be subject to USDA inspection. I do not think the exemption from licensing should be extended to anyone with more than 4 breeding females, nor do I think that the exemption should be based on the number of animals sold, since this would cause far more enforcement difficulties. I do, however, ask that you clarify that the new definition will NOT apply to bono fide nonprofit animal rescue groups.

USDA was correct to reject the suggestion that it regulate dealers based on the volume of sales that are “sight unseen” versus walk-in. Walk-in customers will be unable to provide any oversight whatsoever of animals sold via the Internet, mail order, or telephone.

I oppose exempting retailers who may fall under state or local licensing laws or some kind of breed or registry requirements. As the Federal Register notice recognizes, such state and local standards as even exist vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and are generally not as comprehensive as the Animal Welfare Act. The only way to provide for some uniformity in and enforcement of minimum standards for the health and welfare of these animals across the country is through compliance with the AWA. Under no circumstances should the care of animals sold as companions be left to compliance with “standards” set by membership organizations that are beholden to their dealer members and are devoted to more breeding and higher profits.

Thank you for taking these comments into consideration. 

Thank you for everything you do for animals!