Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) proposed a rule that redefines the definition of “retail pet store” under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) in order to shut a loophole that has allowed retailers to sell animals “sight unseen” via the internet, by mail or over the phone.
Initially passed in 1966, the AWA carved out retail pet stores, which would not be subject to USDA licensing and inspection requirements. The rationale for this carve-out was because the consumer had the opportunity to check an animal’s health and condition in person in the store before buying the animal. Technology has changed all of that, allowing retailers who use the internet, mail and phone sales to escape any kind of inspection by the consumer or the government.
Under the proposed rule, a person who breeds more than four female dogs, cats and/or small exotic or wild mammals must open their doors either to the public or to APHIS inspectors, who will also require a license.
This rule still doesn’t impact backyard breeders and traditional retail pet stores that sell directly to the public. State regulation governs those stores and breeders, but states have had mixed results with puppy mill legislation. When states have been able to pass puppy mill statutes, they are often fairly weak. For example, Virginia’s puppy mill statute only covers breeders who have at least 50 breeding dogs.