Pet column: Breakthrough puppy mill legislation |

Pet column: Breakthrough puppy mill legislation

Dawn Armstrong
Special to the Tribune

In 2009, the City of South Lake Tahoe took a precedent-setting stand on behalf of companion animals when it passed the first successful ordinance banning retail sales of dogs and cats. Thirty-two cities in North America have followed that brave lead. Three of those cities had tried previously and finally succeeded after consumer education about the cruel horrors of the puppy mill industry spread. Connecticut is on the verge of being the first to ban sales of companion animals statewide. “It is a common misconception that USDA-certified breeders have dogs that are well treated and healthy,” Amy Harrell, president of CT Votes for Animals said. “USDA standards under the Animal Welfare Act are very low, and allow dogs to sit on wire mesh floors all the time. They can live in cages only six inches larger than they are.”

In the wake of citizen awareness and resulting demand for strict local ordinances, surveys show that many pet stores became more successful when they converted from puppy mill outlets to partners for on site shelter animal adoptions. Albuquerque reported that euthanasia in city shelters decreased 35 percent in the year after their retail sales ban of “all companion animals.” It has been win-win. However, the bad guys moved more aggressively to the unregulated Internet, continuing to ply their cruel trade in animals bred and inbred continuously, weaned and transported prematurely with no regard for health, socialization or basic care. Dealers created websites featuring puppies frolicking on green lawns and buyers responded with large amounts of cash. The thousands of online pet dealers claimed to be retail outlets, exempt from regulation under the Animal Welfare Act. Until last week there was absolutely no protection, no oversight of internet based operations. With Puppy Mill Awareness Day on the horizon, legislation finally was passed to close the loophole.

Authored by California Rep. Sam Farr, the ranking member on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, new rules update the definition of a retail pet store and deny this status to online sellers. The legislation provides that internet sellers will be subject to USDA regulation, including licensing. “By a small rule change, the USDA has taken a huge step toward regulating and reforming online puppy mills,” Farr stated. “Animals depend on us to safeguard their welfare and protect them from abuse, neglect and other forms of mistreatment.”

Explained in the press release of September 10, 2013 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service: “The previous definition of ‘retail pet store’ was developed more than 40 years ago, before the Internet provided an alternate method of selling pets to the public.” The APHIS action follows citizen outcry after release of the Office of Inspector General 2010 audit on dog breeders. The OIG found “major deficiencies” in the APHIS Animal Care Unit enforcement practices, including overlooked violations and “lenient practices against repeat violators.” More than 80 percent of sampled breeders were not being monitored or inspected to ensure overall health and humane treatment of animals. The examples of conditions found were grisly.

While recent legal actions are significant and positive, still it is up to each animal loving consumer to be aware and compassionate when acquiring a companion animal. Consumers supported the internet trade by paying premium prices in advance for pets — sight unseen — who were never delivered, arrived sick or dead, or had genetic defects requiring lifetime commitment for extra, costly care. The responsible, humane alternative remains adopting from shelters or buying from reputable breeders who only deal directly with individuals.

Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help “Keep Tahoe Kind.” Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.

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