New USDA rule on dog sellers breeds confusion

Looking to the Internet to find your next puppy?

The clock is ticking toward enactment of a new rule that will change the way legitimate dog breeders do business here and across the country. Meant to curb the shady selling of pets, it could well put a bite on future transactions.

The purpose of the new rule issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA/APHIS) is to bring unscrupulous internet-based pet breeders and dog sellers under the regulation of the Animal Welfare Act. Despite the good intentions of the rule-makers, officials with the American Kennel Club believe the rule is “overly broad and will penalize responsible breeders while ignoring substandard operations that sell dogs roadside or in parking lots,” said spokesperson Lisa Peterson.

“Requiring these breeders to adhere to the Animal Welfare Act standards is important because we know that if the federal standards are being met, the animals are getting humane care and treatment” said Ed Avalos, Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs. “By revising the definition of retail pet store to better suit today’s marketplace, we will now improve the welfare of more pet animals sold sight-unseen.”

Phyllis Giroux DVM, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and an AKC Breeder of Merit, is concerned about providing pups to long term customers.

Giroux is a Goldvein breeder and veterinarian who specializes in canine reproduction and sports medicine. She says the new rule hurts legitimate breeders.

“ I have customers from the 1980s and 1990s who have moved away and want a new dog that I now cannot legally sell to them because it violates the new rule against sight unseen sales – this will prevent 20 percent of my customers from getting puppies that I sell simply because they live too far away from my facility.”

One of the provisions of the new rule is a prohibition against the sale of any dog sight unseen to a third-party. According to the USDA, the existing rule was developed before the Internet provided an alternate method of selling pets to the public.

“Some breeders were selling pet animals sight unseen, without providing an opportunity for the buyer to observe the animal prior to purchase, as was intended by the regulation,” according to the USDA release. The revised rule brings animals involved in these transactions under the Animal Welfare Act so that they can be monitored by the agency for health and humane treatment.

The 91-page rule includes multiple areas of regulatory confusion. To help clarify some of these issues, the American Kennel Club hosted an on-the-record conference call with USDA/APHIS officials.
But Giroux says the results weren’t helpful. “The new rule is a 19,000-word document with many provisions that are unclear, confusing or unfair based on the available information. I was part of the conference call with USDA APHIS officials to ask questions and get clarifications but the officials at USDA were unwilling to be precise about a number of issues.”

The rule was first proposed in May 2012. The American Kennel Club raised specific concerns about the proposed rule and provided a petition with over 70,000 signatures from concerned breeders and dog owners.

The rule is due to go into effect in mid-November. Officials at USDA APHIS have said they will need “a significant amount of time” to prepare to enforce the rule and is not providing a specific time by which breeders must come into compliance.

The USDA has indicated that when they locate a person they believe to be out of compliance their first step will be to send a letter asking for information and to help determine whether they need to be licensed. They will then work with that person to come into compliance.