The HSUS and other animal welfare organizations today filed a legal petition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture urging the agency to improve minimum standards of care for dogs in commercial breeding facilities – the latest strategic policy action to turn around our nation’s disgraceful tolerance of puppy mills.
The USDA has taken strides in recent years to better regulate commercial dog breeders, adopting rules to ban imports of dogs from foreign puppy mills and to require inspections of Internet sellers of puppies. Those were immensely important advances, but what’s remained untouched are the actual minimum standards of care for the dogs at USDA-licensed facilities in the United States.
Specifically, the current standards do not prohibit extreme confinement, stacking of cages, or keeping the animals on wire floors indefinitely. There are no requirements that animals ever get out of cages or receive routine veterinary care or human socialization. The rules are more like survival standards, stipulating that animals have enough food and water and don’t get cut by protruding wires or freeze to death outside. But they hardly guarantee – even if the standards are followed – that the animals will have any quality of life.
If adopted, the fortified standards proposed in the petition have the potential to dramatically improve the lives of tens of thousands of dogs in such facilities by creating clear requirements for veterinary care, housing, breeding practices, socialization, and placement of retired breeding dogs.
Imagine keeping a Chihuahua in a cage the size of a file drawer for her entire life, or confining a beagle in a pen no larger than your car’s trunk. Imagine giving those dogs water only twice a day, and allowing the temperature around them to drop below freezing for hours at a time.
Our investigations have repeatedly demonstrated that minimum care standards in the Animal Welfare Act regulations are insufficient to protect dogs. Research and investigations, including our report on the Horrible Hundred, reveal that substandard breeders are keeping dogs in entirely deficient conditions, with many facilities routinely violating the minimal standards of the AWA. Yet even those breeders who have no documented violations on their inspection reports often keep dogs in inhumane conditions because the minimum standards are insufficient. It’s time for the USDA to update the AWA standards and give breeding dogs conditions that are livable and humane.
The HSUS filed the petition jointly with the ASPCA and the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, and it was prepared by HSUS attorneys working with an extraordinary group of pro bono lawyers from Latham & Watkins LLP, one of the nation’s top law firms. Among other things, the petition requests that the USDA restrict the use of wire flooring and stacked cages, and requires that dogs have more space and access to an outdoor exercise area to perform normal canine behaviors such as running and playing. Responsible breeders and pet industry organizations should support these standards and help to crack down on puppy mills and restore consumer confidence.
It’s just common sense that dogs should have space, veterinary care, exercise, and other basic humane treatment. This subpar and often abusive treatment of dogs has gone on too long in our country and there’s no excuse for maintaining deficient standards in a nation that expects more of its breeders. If the industry claims it cares for dogs properly, then it has nothing to fear from upgrading those standards and providing them the kind of care that any responsible dog owner would demand as a matter of routine.