New rules to bring Internet-based pet breeders and sellers under the regulation of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) were released today by the United States Department of Agriculture Animal (USDA) and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
The final version of new federal regulations that narrow the definition of a “retail pet store” is essentially the same unchanged rule originally proposed in May 2012. It effectively expands USDA oversight of pet breeders to include people who maintain more than four “breeding females” of any species and sell even one pet “sight unseen,” according to the American Kennel Club.
The rules announced Tuesday, Sept. 10, subject dog owners who breed more than four females and sell the puppies online, by mail or over the phone to the same oversight as wholesale animal breeders and will force them to apply for federal licenses.
Many breeders who run their businesses online have avoided federal oversight by calling themselves retail pet stores, which are exempt from licensing requirements, states Macleans.
The major difference is that buyers can see the animals before they buy them in a retail pet store and decide whether they appear healthy and cared for; therefore, the seller is not required to have a USDA license. But that is not true when a consumer buys over the Internet.
The idea behind the new rules, explains Kevin Shea, USDA Administrator of Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, is that either government inspectors or prospective buyers must be able to see the animals with their own eyes before they are sold.
A 2010 inspection by the USDA attorney general was prompted after the agency received numerous reports from buyers who received sick or dying animals they had ordered. Subsequent inspection of the facilities showed that many breeding facilities were infested with parasites and insects and housed breeding animals in cages with filthy, inhumane conditions.
The new rules will require that sellers either open their doors to the public so buyers can see the animals before they purchase them, or obtain a license and be subject to inspections by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
“The licenses will cost $750 or less and ‘hobby breeders’ continue to be exempt,” Shea said.
The rules currently target dog breeders but could also affect breeders of other animals, according to the Associated Press. The Agriculture Department estimates that up to 4,640 dog breeders could be affected by the rule, along with about 325 cat breeders and up to 75 rabbit breeders.