The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been charged by Congress to license and inspect commercial pet breeders that sell puppies to pet stores or via the Internet. While we’ve lauded some recent actions of the USDA to crack down on the worst breeders, we’ve long recognized that the underlying regulations that set standards of care are too weak – making it legal for breeders to keep animals in deficient, even dangerous environments, and to entirely sidestep issues related to genetic and psychological health. In fact, current regulations don’t even require that breeding dogs have access to the outdoors, room to run, regular hands-on veterinary exams, or daily positive human attention.
Last September, The HSUS submitted a legal petition to the USDA, urging the agency to improve its standards of care for dogs in commercial breeding operations. In short, we’ve proposed upgrading the minimum standards to drive out the worst actors so that people who cannot provide the basics for dogs are precluded from conducting business. We’ve been encouraged that several players in the industry supported this petition.
The USDA and other regulators must know that there is growing momentum among citizens to end the suffering and abuse of dogs at puppy mills. More than 160 local governments have enacted ordinances banning the sale of commercially-raised puppies in pet stores and our lawyers have defeated at least six industry challenges to those ordinances. Louisiana just enacted a state law on the issue, and New Jersey lawmakers are poised to pass one, too.
The USDA has not moved fast enough to strengthen its standards on puppy mills, and it’s up to the American public to make sure that the agency acts. Given the administrative procedures that drag out any rulemaking process, this issue won’t be settled this year, even if the USDA were to demonstrate more serious resolve. The next president will likely determine whether new standards are put in place to assure the health of dogs bred for commerce. But the USDA shouldn’t use that as an excuse to wait.
What we do know for certain is that industry self-regulation has been a dismal failure. When questioned about their stores’ alleged links to puppy mills, store owners routinely tell customers that they purchase only from USDA licensed breeders, as if that’s some kind of ironclad assurance. The average shopper doesn’t understand that the USDA’s housing rules are best described as survival standards rather than humane standards. It’s not illegal under the law to allow hundreds of dogs to live their entire lives in small, stacked wire cages, with very little protection from extremes of heat or cold. There’s no requirement that an animal ever has to leave a cage or see a veterinarian. And the USDA readily admits that its inspection process inadequately enforces even these bare minimum standards.
Our countless raids of substandard mills, with law enforcement, show that we have a simmering problem throughout the nation. The current set of state and federal guidelines aren’t enough, and frankly, a patchwork of state rules and regulations for a national industry is not the most efficient or reliable way to tackle a decades-long problem involving hundreds of thousands of animals.
The USDA has made advances 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. But we’re overdue for lifting the standards, and even people in the industry know it’s time. If you haven’t already written to the USDA asking the agency to act on this petition, please do so now. We will ensure that your letter is presented to the USDA in person.