USDA Proposed Rule To Redefine "Retail Pet Stores" Would Create Harsh Consequences for Small Breeders: Act Today
In response to a number of recent complaints about substandard and/or unscrupulous Internet pet sellers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which administers the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), has proposed a regulatory change (or "rule") to redefine the term "retail pet store."
Under current law, the AWA exempts from federal oversight "retail pet stores" which sell puppies directly to a final customer for use as pets. It is this rule which exempts most non-commercial, small, or hobby breeders from being licensed and regulated by the USDA. In this context, the term "retail pet store" includes hobby breeders who raise pets in home settings and occasionally sell a pet to a carefully screened new owner.
The proposed rule would rescind the exempt "retail pet store" status of anyone who sells a pet to a buyer who does not physically enter a place of business or residence in order to personally observe the animals available for sale. It would further require that any dog owner/breeder who maintains more than four "breeding females" (the term is not defined in the regulations or the AWA) and sells even one puppy sight unseen to be licensed, inspected and regulated according to USDA commercial breeder/dealer standards.
The AKC shares the USDA's concern about substandard Internet puppy sellers that operate outside the current regulations. However, the unintended consequences of this proposed rule create unreasonable hardships on small hobby breeders. Moreover, this rule could threaten the future of a vast number of small responsible dog breeders and the very existence of some rare breeds in the United States.
The rule does not define "breeding female" and it is unclear how USDA, or even the breeders themselves, could determine exactly who would fall under commercial kennel licensing requirements. It is unreasonable to expect small breeders, who may keep a handful of intact females in their homes, to be able to meet exacting USDA commercial kennel engineering standards that were never intended for home environments. Other pre-existing restrictions such as local ordinances, insurance or licensing may also prevent hobbyists from adapting their facilities.
The rule creates an unfair burden on small breeders who may depend on the ability to place dogs very selectively in known situations without the purchaser viewing the puppy on-site at the breeder's facility. Likewise, many hobbyists are comfortable purchasing an animal sight-unseen based on known pedigrees, bloodlines, previous relationships or personal knowledge of each other's facilities and programs. Such scenarios are particularly common and necessary for breeders and fanciers of rare breeds. Purchasers may be willing to sign a waiver of an in-person sale requirement.
Genetic variation is crucial to the health of dog breeds, especially rare breeds. The future viability of some breeds may depend on the ability of breeders to both own more than four "breeding females" and occasionally sell a puppy sight unseen. Maintaining genetic diversity often requires purchasing puppies sight unseen due to distances.
The vastly increased number of potential licensees would also require expanded USDA services, further weakening APHIS's ability to respond to the true commercial facilities needing inspection. A May 2010 Inspector General's audit of USDA kennel inspections demonstrated that the existing inspections program is insufficient to carry out current responsibilities: the AKC does not believe that further diluting the resources of this group is in the best interest of dogs or consumers.
The AKC urges all concerned dog owners and breeders to sign the online Join With the AKC to Protect Responsible Small Breeders petition. By signing the petition, you add weight to the concerns as expressed by the AKC and you actively help demonstrate that the USDA has vastly underestimated the number of individuals potentially impacted by this overly broad and burdensome proposal.
In addition, AKC strongly encourages you to review the proposed rule and submit your comments to the Animal Care Division of the USDA's Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS) prior to the July 16 deadline. For more information about the proposed rule, how to submit your own comment, or sign the petition, visit the AKC's online USDA/APHIS regulations resource page.
Take action today:
- Send your comments to APHIS using an online form or by mail to:
Docket No. APHIS–2011–0003
Regulatory Analysis and Development
PPD, APHIS, Station 3A–03.8
4700 River Road, Unit 118
Riverdale, MD 20737–1238
- Sign and share the AKC petition.
- Stay informed. Visit the AKC Government Relations online USDA/APHIS regulations resource page.