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September 13, 2013

Talk Back: New Rule the Beginning of Efforts to Crack Down on Puppy Mills

Earlier this year, The HSUS and local authorities removed 58 dogs from Royal Acres Kennel in North Carolina. The animals we found there included blind and paralyzed dogs; dogs with dental decay so severe that several of their jaws were disintegrated and they could no longer keep their tongues in their mouths; animals with tumors and infections; and a paralyzed Dachshund who had injured his private parts by dragging them along the dirty ground for so long on nonworking legs. Field responders said the ammonia levels in the facility burned their eyes. This facility, which sells many small-breed and "designer" puppies, took advantage of a loophole in Animal Welfare Act regulations that exempted online sellers.

RoyalAcres
Meredith Lee/The HSUS
A Chihuahua that was rescued from Royal Acres Kennel
in North Carolina.

It’s because of cases like this that the new federal rule, announced on Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is so important. The USDA is now moving to close that loophole, which allowed large-scale operations like Royal Acres to continue selling dogs without a license or inspections. Without any oversight at the federal level, there were so many puppy mills cutting corners and mistreating dogs.

The number of commercial dog breeders regulated by the USDA has declined about 40 percent since 2007, precisely because breeders who could not or did not want to meet USDA standards were simply dropping out of the program and changing their business model to sell puppies over the Internet.

The Animal Welfare Act outlines basic standards of care for puppies, kittens, and other small mammals sold as pets. The standards require protection from the heat and cold, veterinary treatment for illness or injury, nutritious food, and clean enclosures, among other rules. When facilities repeatedly fail to meet these standards, the USDA has the power to suspend or revoke a license, or to impose fines and penalties. Last year a number of dealers and breeders were fined or had their licenses suspended or terminated.

The USDA has clearly stepped up enforcement since a damning 2010 overview of its inspections program by the agency’s own inspector general.  But now the USDA really has to show its resolve by shutting down operations that are flagrantly violating the law. 

So many of you expressed great enthusiasm for this policy advance, but also some skepticism that the USDA would handle its new responsibilities with vigor.

As someone who has adopted a puppy rescued from a puppy mill, I know firsthand the devastating, lifelong effects these facilities can have on the poor animals who were born there. Thanks to everyone who acted on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves!

- Susan Jenkins
It is good news that the USDA is adopting a rule to extend federal oversight to online sellers of animals. What concerns me is the fact that the USDA has long exhibited, as your blog says, "deficient exercise of authority by USDA where it had authority." It is one thing for the agency to have the authority, but quite another to get it to actually apply that authority in a meaningful way.  Progress has been made, at least. Now to find a way to hold the USDA's feet to the fire and have it actually use its enforcement authority.

- Craig Cline
This is awesome. This is a blessing for these poor animals and I heartily applaud it! It is heartbreaking to see how the parent animals are treated. Now at least they have a chance and people will able to report situations that need to be investigated.

- Sylvia
Will there be additional personnel to handle this new load of work? I am afraid it will just look good on paper and there will not be enough staff to really make a difference and visit all of the puppy mills.

- Tracy Landes
This is a monumental step toward getting some of the most egregious perpetrators out of the loop! Thank you HSUS - you really made this supporter happy today! I look forward in our work together on making this campaign even stronger in the future.

- Kathy Spera
So when does the USDA plan on going after the Amish? They are running mills, dog auctions... This has been an issue since I was a child and I'm now 58 years old and there’s been no change. What about the thousands of back yard breeders in the U.S.? So much talk from the USDA and next to no action. Animals are the lowest priority in this country.

- Donna Bessette

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