On Sept. 18, the USDA-APHIS published a final rule amending the Animal Welfare Act regulations, in an attempt to close a loophole that allowed breeders to sell puppies via the Internet in sight-unseen transactions. On the surface, it is a sensible undertaking: The Animal Welfare Act was written long before the Internet was a household staple, and many large-scale, substandard breeding operations were avoiding any kind of oversight by selling their puppies only at retail, and shipping them sight-unseen to the buyers. Unfortunately, the rule is vague in many areas and even the USDA is not entirely clear about who is required to be licensed.
Boxer breeders are of course concerned with whether their breeding program falls under USDA licensing, and so are rescuers. Unlike many state breeding laws, rescue groups are not automatically exempt from the USDA rule. While it may seem like a reasonable requirement, USDA regulations in general do not allow for the kind of care, socialization and enrichment that responsible home breeders give to their puppies. Fortunately, there are some exemptions that will allow home breeders to continue to produce happy, healthy, quality puppies that are well-socialized and stable, and allow rescuers to operate without USDA licensing. For breeders and rescuers (of Boxers or other breeds) who are trying to figure out whether they need to be licensed, these are the key points to consider:
- If you sell puppies or dogs as pets, you are considered a 'dealer' under the Federal Animal Welfare Act.
- If you sell puppies or dogs at wholesale as working or breeding animals, you are considered a dealer; if you sell those puppies or dogs at retail, you are not considered a dealer.
- Dealers must be licensed by the UDSA.
- If you are considered a dealer, you may be exempt from the licensing requirements if you meet any one of the following criteria:
- You are a retail pet store. A retail pet store is defined by the USDA as "a place of business or residence at which the seller, buyer, and the animal available for sale are physically present so that every buyer may personally observe the animal prior to purchasing and/or taking custody of that animal after purchase".
- You maintain four or fewer breeding females and sell at wholesale only their offspring that are born and raised on your premises. (Note that "breeding females" includes the total number of dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets, and other exotic and small mammals on the premises, and that it is up to the APHIS inspector to determine which females are "breeding females" and which are not.)
- You maintain four or fewer breeding females and sell at retail only their offspring that are born and raised on your premises. (This is the primary change; in the past, all breeders selling pets directly at retail for the buyer's own use were exempt.)
Basically, for breeders selling pet puppies, there are two exemptions: "Face-to-Face" and "Four and Fewer". The key point with the "Four and Fewer" exemption is that while a breeder can ship puppies sight unseen if they meet this exemption, they cannot sell stud fee puppies, puppies back from a co-ownership arrangement, or rescue dogs that they've helped foster. Similarly, rescue workers cannot take the "Four and Fewer" exemption, because they are selling dogs they did not whelp and raise. (Note that the USDA considers any remuneration for the animal to be an act of compensation, whether it is for profit or not, and specifically includes sales, donations, and adoption fees in that definition.) Most rescue groups do not ship their dogs, and so generally would qualify for the "Face-to-Face" retail pet store exemption.
Predictably, the USDA rule and the 80-odd pages of discussion accompanying it raise more questions than they answer. Various groups and individuals are working with the staff at APHIS to obtain answers and clarifications to these questions as the effective date approaches. For a discussion of some of the more common questions raised by dog breeders, visit the Boxers 101 Blog.