The Humane Society of the United States fights puppy mills on many fronts, from working with local law enforcement to rescue animals in puppy mills to urging state and federal lawmakers and federal agencies to create and improve laws that protect animals in such facilities. Today, Sara Amundson, President of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, and John Goodwin, Senior Director of the Stop Puppy Mills Campaign, attended a meeting at the White House along with various stakeholders from the pet industry and members of Congress to discuss the need to improve standards at large-scale commercial breeding facilities. On the blog today, I have invited them to share more details about that meeting.
We live in an era of sharply divided political opinions, but no matter how we vote, there is one thing most Americans would agree on: the compassionate treatment of dogs and ending the scourge of puppy mills. But this past year has seen some backward moves from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is charged with inspecting and maintaining records of commercial breeders that help groups like ours and consumers monitor puppy mill abuses.
Today, at a meeting in the West Wing of the White House, we had an opportunity to sit down with USDA officials, members of Congress, animal welfare advocate Blair Brandt, and stakeholders in the pet industry, including breeders and leaders from pet stores such as PetSmart and Petland, to discuss raising the standards of care for dogs in large-scale commercial breeding operations, the majority of which keep dogs in dismal conditions characteristic of puppy mills. The standards of care currently required under the Animal Welfare Act are woefully outdated, allowing USDA-licensed breeders to legally keep hundreds of dogs in cramped, stacked wire cages for their entire lives.
Lara Trump, an ardent dog lover and daughter-in-law of President Trump, participated in the meeting, which was also attended by Rep Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Rep Lou Barletta, R-Pa., and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa. Rep. Fitzpatrick introduced two bills earlier this year designed to protect dogs in puppy mills. The trio of federal legislators also led a letter to the White House requesting humane reforms echoed in the discussion. Today’s meeting centered upon the need to raise the outdated care standards at federally-licensed dog breeding operations. Improvements discussed at the meeting included banning stacked cages and wire flooring, requiring common-sense reforms such as annual hands-on veterinary care for every dog, more comfortable and spacious housing, and attention to each dog’s social and behavioral needs.
It was particularly helpful to have the dog breeders tell the USDA directly that they support higher standards for commercial breeders, busting the agency’s perception that all breeders are against reform.
The meeting was an opportunity for redemption after the USDA, in February last year, caused an uproar by abruptly removing thousands of pages of Animal Welfare Act enforcement records from its website; many of those records are still missing or have critical information blacked out. In addition, earlier this year, the USDA announced a plan to start pre-warning some breeders prior to their inspections. Another plan, which has since been defeated, proposed allowing third-party groups to inspect puppy mills. In addition, HSUS research shows that in 2017 and 2018, USDA inspectors have been citing breeders with fewer and fewer violations, and that many dog breeders are increasingly failing to let inspectors into their kennels at all, perhaps emboldened by the lax enforcement.
Some states are taking action where the USDA has not. Today’s meeting follows the success of a new law in Ohio, signed just weeks ago, which requires common-sense reforms at commercial dog breeding operations, most of which mirror the same improvements that are being asked of the USDA. Ohio’s bill makes it the latest of several of the largest puppy mill states in the country to enact stronger standards. In fact, with the implementation of the Ohio law, and similar laws in high puppy-producing states such as Missouri and Pennsylvania, soon half of the federally licensed commercial dog breeders in the country will be located in states that already require most of the standards we are asking the USDA to implement.
We are now urging the USDA to move forward on a legal petition we first submitted in 2015, that outlines all the enhanced dog care standards discussed at the White House meeting today, and includes most of the standards recently passed in Ohio.
Professional pet sellers present at today’s meeting agree that moving forward to require these higher care standards nationwide is the best way to provide a level playing field for all breeders, while also providing dogs with the decent conditions that most Americans agree they all deserve.