By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
A bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives today introduced a bill to crack down on puppy mill cruelty by closing loopholes in the law that allow problem breeders with severe and multiple Animal Welfare Act violations to continue doing business as usual. The Welfare of Our Friends (WOOF) Act, H.R. 1002, reintroduced by U.S. Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Charlie Crist, D-Fla., Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., and Jim McGovern, D-Mass, has the potential to improve the welfare of thousands of dogs and puppies bred and sold each year by federally licensed commercial breeders.
At present, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, tasked with licensing and inspecting certain businesses that use animals, routinely relicenses puppy breeders with dozens of severe violations on their records, including dead and dying animals who didn’t receive adequate veterinary care, underweight animals and animals kept in filthy and unsafe conditions. Problem dealers whose licenses have been suspended or revoked can also essentially obtain a new license under the name of a family member while owning the same animals on the same property.
For years, we have exposed this disregard for the law and the need to close these loopholes in our annual Horrible Hundred reports on problem puppy mills in the United States, which we compile from USDA and state inspection data. For instance, our researchers found that a breeding facility in Seneca, Kansas, has been operating for decades under the names of several different family members at the same location. Documented violations of the Animal Welfare Act at that facility included limping dogs, dogs with open wounds, underweight dogs with their backbones and hips protruding, and dogs found outside in the frigid cold without adequate protection from the weather.
We already know that allowing problem puppy mills to operate can have far-reaching and devastating consequences, not only for the animals but also for humans. In September 2018, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study linked a disease outbreak caused by an antibiotic resistant strain of campylobacter, a disease-causing bacterium, to numerous commercial dog breeding facilities. That outbreak led to 118 people in 18 states falling ill, including many who were hospitalized. The WOOF Act will help prevent such epidemics by requiring that a dealer pass inspection, which includes meeting veterinary care and sanitation rules, before the USDA issues or renews their license. It will also help protect families from unknowingly buying sick puppies.
Our nation has a puppy mill problem, and the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund are working to bring high-volume puppy producers to heel. Our federal and state legislative and regulatory teams, attorneys, puppy mills campaign staff, investigative team and our Animal Rescue Team attack this problem from every angle, whether it’s reaching consumers through education, working with pet supply stores, taking unscrupulous online puppy sellers to court, collaborating with responsible breeders and other stakeholders, helping pass state and federal laws and regulations, saving animals from terrible situations in puppy mills, conducting undercover investigations, or raising awareness about puppy mills through our annual Horrible Hundred report.
By stopping problem dealers, the WOOF Act will ensure that those who abuse animals do not get to profit by them. We thank Reps. Fitzpatrick, Crist, Thompson and McGovern for introducing this important bill. When the WOOF Act was introduced late in the last Congress with similar language, it garnered 167 co-sponsors in the House, and we are extremely hopeful that support will further grow this year. You can help by contacting your U.S. Representative today. Ask them to cosponsor the WOOF Act and help end the scourge of puppy mills.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.