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Senators Introduce Bill to Protect Dogs in Puppy Mills

Legislation would close loophole in current law exempting Internet puppy sales from animal welfare standards

(April 1, 2011) — The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund commend Senators Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and David Vitter (R-La.) for reintroducing legislation that will allow oversight of abusive puppy mills in the United States. Puppy mills are large-scale, commercial breeding operations where dogs are commonly housed in overcrowded, filthy, and inhumane conditions. S. 707—known as the PUPS Act, for "Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety Act "— will close a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act that currently allows large-scale, commercial breeders who sell puppies online or directly to the public to escape licensing and regulation.

H.R. 835, a companion bill introduced last month in the House of Representatives by Reps. Jim Gerlach, R-Pa., Sam Farr, D-Calif., Bill Young, R-Fla., and Lois Capps, D-Calif., already has 86 cosponsors.

The legislation would also require that dogs used for breeding be provided daily exercise. Breeding dogs in puppy mills are typically forced to live their entire lives in small cages with no opportunity for exercise, little or no socialization, and minimal human interaction.

"Dogs should be treated like family pets, not like a cash crop," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. "The federal law regarding the care of dogs at commercial dog-breeding operations is grossly overdue for reform, and this legislation will correct some of the worst gaps and deficiencies in current law."

Facilities that breed dogs for commercial resale through pet stores are required to be licensed and inspected under the federal Animal Welfare Act. However, puppy mills that sell directly to the public are exempt from any federal oversight whatsoever. Unregulated Internet sellers and other direct sales facilities sell thousands of puppies a year to unsuspecting consumers. Due to improper care by these breeders, these puppies are often sick, leaving outraged consumers with frail, sometimes dying puppies, high vet bills and broken hearts. Meanwhile, the breeding dogs at these facilities often spend their entire lives in constant confinement, suffering, and deprivation.

In 2010, the USDA Office of Inspector General released a report criticizing the department’s history of lax oversight of dog dealers under the Animal Welfare Act. The OIG reviewed inspections and enforcement actions taken against dealers from 2006 to 2008 and found that USDA inspectors failed to cite or properly document inhumane treatment and brought little to no enforcement actions against violators. This audit mirrors what The HSUS has been reporting for years, that USDA has historically allowed dog dealers to violate the law without fear of any kind of aggressive enforcement actions.

Last year, USDA announced that the administration was going to take a tougher stance on repeat offenders of the law by conducting more inspections and imposing higher fines. As recommended by the OIG, the agency has conveyed to Congress the need to bring producers selling directly to the public under the AWA and close what the agency acknowledged is "a massive loophole."

"The media regularly reports stories about dogs rescued from substandard facilities -- where dogs are housed in stacked wire cages and seriously ill and injured dogs are routinely denied access to veterinary care," said Senator Richard Durbin. "Sadly, online dog sales have contributed to the rise of these disturbing cases. My bipartisan bill requires breeders who sell more than 50 dogs a year directly to the public to obtain a license from the USDA and ensures that the dogs receive proper care."

“Too many loopholes have allowed dog breeders to get away with abusive behavior, and this bill makes necessary reforms to ensure that puppies are treated humanely,” said Senator David Vitter.

The legislation will close the loophole in the AWA that allows thousands of commercial breeders to go unregulated. It will require the following changes to the AWA:

  • All dog breeders who sell more than 50 puppies per year directly to the public will be federally licensed and inspected..
  • Dogs at commercial breeding facilities must be given the opportunity to exercise for 60 minutes a day.
  • The bill will not affect small breeders and hobby breeders who sell fewer than 50 dogs per year directly to the public, but is crafted to cover only large-scale commercial breeding facilities.

Media contact: Jordan Crump, (301) 548-7793, jcrump@humanesociety.org

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The Humane Society Legislative Fund is a social welfare organization incorporated under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code and formed in 2004 as a separate lobbying affiliate of The Humane Society of the United States. The HSLF works to pass animal protection laws at the state and federal level, to educate the public about animal protection issues, and to support humane candidates for office. Visit us on all our channels: on the web at hslf.org, on our blog at animalsandpolitics.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/humanelegislation and on Twitter at twitter.com/HSLegFund.