By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
A quartet of bipartisan U.S. Representatives today introduced a bill that would strengthen baseline standards for commercial dog dealers regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the Animal Welfare Act.
The Puppy Protection Act was introduced by Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Charlie Crist, D-Fla., Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa., and it builds on previous efforts by these lawmakers to crack down on puppy mills, like the WOOF Act introduced in February that would make it harder for USDA-licensed breeders and exhibitors with severe and multiple Animal Welfare Act (AWA) violations to get new licenses.
The Puppy Protection Act is necessary because current AWA regulations are vague and inadequate when it comes to the animals’ veterinary care and even their most basic needs, like food, water and socialization. Under current regulations, federally licensed breeders can be compliant with the AWA even while keeping dogs in small, cramped wire cages without sufficient preventive care, exercise or socialization. This often leads to sick, behaviorally-challenged puppies and heartbreak for the families who bring them home and love them.
Among other improvements, the Puppy Protection Act would:
- Require annual hands-on veterinary examinations, core vaccinations, prompt treatment of illness or injury and preventive medications. Such protections now tend to be especially inadequate for mother and father dogs and their offspring at large-scale breeding operations. Current standards simply call for breeders to employ an attending veterinarian and maintain vaguely defined “adequate veterinary care.”
- Set specific limits on breeding age and frequency, requiring breeders to screen for inheritable diseases, and prohibiting a dog from being bred unless they are free from such conditions. There are no rules on breeding practices now, so breeders can breed dogs relentlessly starting at a young age, including dogs with crippling congenital conditions that can be passed on to the puppies, like degenerative myelopathy, a disease of the spinal cord. And when a mother dog is too old to breed, the bill would compel the breeder to seek humane placement, rather than selling or destroying her.
- Improve housing conditions for the dogs, which can be miserable and overcrowded and can cause sanitation problems, stress and disease in the animals. Many puppy mills stack dogs in tiny cages on top of one another, with wire flooring underfoot. Dogs’ and puppies’ legs or feet can become trapped in the wires, causing injury or keeping the animals from being able to reach food and water. The bill seeks to expand cage and exercise spaces and would require at least 30 minutes of socialization for the dogs each day, which would improve the animals’ health and behavioral development.
- Require food be provided at least twice per day and access to water be provided continuously. The bill would prevent breeders from housing dogs without protections in freezing or sweltering temperatures.
Our staff witnesses the horrors that puppy mills wreak on innocent animals every day, through the hands-on rescue work we do and through the work of our Puppy Mills Campaign, including our research for the annual Horrible Hundred report, which identifies problem puppy mills in the United States. We come across many shocking examples of how current federal standards are failing to protect the animals adequately. For instance, during a June 2018 inspection of an Indiana breeder, a USDA inspector, after coming upon an extremely thin female breeding dog, simply allowed the licensee to obtain veterinary guidance over the phone, which is allowed under current regulations, instead of requiring a hands-on examination. Not only did this place the mother dog and her puppies at risk of an inaccurate diagnosis, but the issue wasn’t cited in a manner to prompt a follow-up inspection. In the end, the welfare of the dog and her puppies was left entirely to the discretion of the breeder who had failed to take adequate care of them in the first place.
This simply cannot go on. We applaud Reps. Fitzpatrick, Crist, McGovern and Reschenthaler for introducing the Puppy Protection Act, and we need your help to ensure it passes into law. Please contact your U.S. Representative today and ask them to cosponsor this important bill. This is commonsense legislation, and it is not too much to ask that dogs should never have to endure the bleak horror of spending their entire lives inside stacked wire cages with no companionship, no protection from harsh weather, and without adequate food and water.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.