The federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), enacted in 1966, was a landmark piece of legislation that greatly increased protections for animals. However, one thing it didn’t factor into the mix was the digital explosion that took place during the second half of the twentieth century, most notably the launch of the Internet. As a result, commercial pet dealers who have been selling animals online were able to evade the regulatory umbrella of the AWA, which is enforced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Last week, the USDA stepped into the Internet age by issuing a rule that will force breeders selling animals to consumers sight-unseen to open their doors to USDA inspectors for the first time.
Every year, thousands of puppies are sold over the Internet and shipped to consumers like products. Websites advertising happy, healthy puppies commonly conceal a grim reality: They’re often fronts for puppy mills—large-scale, commercial breeding operations that rear dogs in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions with complete disregard for the animals’ wellbeing. Breeding dogs typically spend their entire lives in tiny, wire-bottomed cages churning out litters of puppies until they can no longer reproduce. All of this has been happening away from government oversight because outdated laws haven’t applied to Internet breeders.
For decades, animal welfare advocates have been working to close this loophole. Last year, the ASPCA, along with several other animal welfare organizations, gathered approximately 350,000 letters and signatures from concerned citizens in support of the USDA’s efforts to regulate unlicensed puppy mills.
“The enormous public response to the USDA’s efforts illustrates just how strongly Americans support greater oversight of puppy mills and their intensity of concern about the humane treatment of animals,” said Cori Menkin, senior director of the ASPCA Puppy Mills Campaign. “We thank the USDA for instituting this change and encourage them to continue to establish even stronger legal protections to safeguard dogs from unscrupulous breeders and improve conditions for dogs in USDA-licensed facilities.”
The need for stronger legal protections for dogs was further evident in a recent poll conducted by Edge Research and commissioned by the ASPCA, which revealed that the public’s definition of humane treatment of dogs in commercial breeding facilities differs in many ways from what is legally required under the AWA. According to the research, 71 percent of Americans stated they were confident that commercial dog breeders licensed by the USDA treat their dogs humanely. Those polled believe that the opportunity to exercise daily, access to routine veterinary care, and being allowed outside at least once a day are absolutely necessary for the humane treatment of dogs. Yet none of these are included in the federal requirements.
To help educate consumers on the difference between what is legal and what is humane, the ASPCA launched a new consumer tool on their No Pet Store Puppies website featuring over 10,000 photos taken by USDA inspectors at licensed breeding facilities, allowing consumers to see where pet store puppies really come from. This database provides the public with a window into breeding facilities that supply puppies to pet stores, and now that the USDA will begin inspecting Internet sellers, they will be able to expose the bleak lives of puppies sold over the Internet, too.