APHIS Rule Closing “Online Sale” Loophole for Pet Breeders is a Great Start, But Agency Should Go Further

Posted by Chris Berry, ALDF's Litigation Fellow on July 30, 2012

Authorities in North Carolina saved 150 puppy mill dogs crammed in squalid, waste-covered conditions in a February 7, 2012 raid. One witness described the scene as “heartbreaking.” The ownerswho sold the puppies onlinereceived 27 counts of animal cruelty charges.

Sadly, a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act for retail pet stores exempts puppy mill breeders like these who sell puppies directly from their property. This exemption made sense when the law was passed in the 1960s because purchasers had to physically enter the breeder’s home or pet store to buy a puppy. However, it creates a dangerous lapse of oversight in the internet age where puppies are technically sold from someone’s property in droves without any other person ever observing the living conditions there.

The proposed APHIS rule (APHIS is a federal agency that oversees many animal issues) would close this loophole for online sales by requiring that purchasers actually step foot on the property before the breeder qualifies under the retail pet store exemption. Regrettably, the rule would broaden another exemption by increasing the number of females that “hobby breeders” can possess from three to four.

ALDF submitted a comment enthusiastically supporting the portion of the rule closing the online sales loophole. ALDF has called for agency or legislative action closing that loophole in the past.

At the same time, ALDF calls on APHIS to go even further. For starters, the allowance for the hobby breeder exemption should not be expanded. Such a move is unnecessary and offers an opportunity for puppy mills to evade regulatory oversight.

Additionally, APHIS should also put some bite behind its bark by taking steps to ensure adequate enforcement actions against puppy mills. A 2010 audit by the agency found that a striking 64% of breeders inspected for the first time were in violation of the Animal Welfare Act but very few were subject to any penalties. Even more astonishing is that the audit found that 52% of repeat offenders received no penalty. APHIS must respond to this pervasive culture of animal welfare violations by amending the rule to require: automatic penalties against first-time offenders, automatic license suspension for repeat offenders, rescue of all distressed animals, disclosure of past violations to puppy purchasers, and permit private individuals to directly enforce the law when the agency refuses to act.

You can voice your support for the closing the online sales loophole and ask APHIS to amend the proposed rule to require tougher enforcement against puppy mills. Take action by
submitting a comment now.