USDA plan could mean change for dogs sold over Internet

Puppy mills may soon face inspection from federal regulators.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced Thursday that they plan to close a long-standing loophole in their policies, a move that could potentially help to ensure the safety of animals sold online.

For too long, an estimated 1,500 unscrupulous commercial breeders have been allowed to bypass Animal Welfare Act basic health and safety restrictions by selling their “products” on the Internet, over the phone, or by shipping puppies in the mail. Doing so allowed these breeders to avoid federal inspections.

But APHIS will now alter their definition of “retail pet store” to what they call “its original intent,” which means that buyers must now be allowed to be physically present and see the animal prior to purchase. Sellers with four or more female breeding dogs must either open their doors to buyers or acquire a license and face APHIS inspections.

The agency’s current Animal Welfare Act was drafted in 1966, with the definition of “retail pet store” determined in 1971. More than 40 years later, in the age of the Internet, the update is certainly a welcome one.

“We feel this is certainly a much-needed change to an outdated system,” said USDA Deputy Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, Rebecca Blue.

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), a longtime animal advocate, reiterated his support for the updates in a statement Thursday. “Today’s announcement by the USDA brings much-needed oversight to the previously unregulated puppy mills raising puppies under terrible conditions,” Durbin said. “This rule will put an end to the loophole in the law that was being exploited by large, negligent puppy breeders, and is an important step towards ensuring that all dogs – whether they are sold online or in a pet store – are treated with care and compassion.”

The same regulations apply to large-scale breeders of cats and exotic pets as well.