It’s appropriate that the month of May, which is perhaps best known for Mother’s Day, saw so much activity on the puppy mill issue—and we see light on the horizon for the hundreds of thousands of mother dogs who are kept in wire cages for their entire lives producing litter after litter, without exercise, companionship, or human interaction.
Missourians for the Protection of Dogs submitted nearly 200,000 signatures of voters to qualify the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act for the November statewide ballot, and St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and other prominent Missourians endorsed the measure to provide more humane treatment of dogs in the nation’s top puppy mill state. In the second largest puppy mill state, Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry signed legislation to provide better oversight of large-scale dog breeding operations. Lawmakers in Illinois and Louisiana passed bills to further strengthen their laws protecting dogs and consumers. And “Animal Planet Investigates: Petland” exposed the cruel conditions uncovered by an HSUS investigation into the suppliers of the nation’s largest retail seller of puppy mill dogs, spurring scores of heartbroken puppy buyers to come forward and tell their stories after purchasing sick pets.
On the federal level, the USDA’s Office of Inspector General released a report criticizing the agency’s history of lax oversight of dog dealers under the Animal Welfare Act. The agency 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 HSUS, HSLF and other animal welfare organizations have been reporting for years, that USDA has historically allowed dog dealers to violate the law without fear of any kind of aggressive enforcement actions.
We are hopeful about a new determination at USDA, and Secretary Tom Vilsack’s strong statements that the administration is going to take a tougher stance on repeat offenders by conducting more inspections and imposing higher fines. Secretary Vilsack wrote to members of Congress urging them to strengthen the Animal Welfare Act and help USDA improve enforcement, specifically by closing “the loophole for entities that sell large volumes of dogs via the Internet.” Secretary Vilsack wrote, “I recognize the importance of addressing the exemption associated with high volume retail sales of dogs, via the Internet or through other means.”
This week, Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and David Vitter (R-La.) and Representatives Sam Farr (D-Calif.), Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.), Lois Capps (D-Calif.), and Bill Young (R-Fla.) introduced bipartisan legislation to do just that. The Puppy Uniform Protection Statute (PUPS), S. 3424 and H.R. 5434, would require that large-scale puppy mills selling dogs directly to the public meet the basic standards of the Animal Welfare Act. Currently, only puppy mills that sell dogs wholesale to pet stores are regulated, and those selling to the public directly, such as through Internet sites, completely escape federal oversight. The legislation will ensure that all puppy mills play by the same rules, and would also require that dogs receive exercise and get out of their cages at least once a day.
We are pleased to see USDA taking a more active role in federal animal welfare legislation, and grateful to Senators Durbin and Vitter and Representatives Farr, Gerlach, Capps, and Young for advancing this much-needed policy reform. Please contact your members of Congress before the month of May winds down, and urge them to support the PUPS legislation and make cracking down on puppy mill abuses a priority. And if you’re looking to bring a puppy into your family, please make shelter adoption your first choice, and view the HSUS puppy buyers’ guide online if you plan to buy from a breeder.