Two Senators are trying again to close a loophole in federal law that allows for the torturous treatment of potentially hundreds of thousands of puppies around the country. The Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety (PUPS) Act, sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), attempts to close a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) of 1966 that allows for totally unregulated breeding of puppies for sale online. The AWA requires breeders that sell to pet stores to acquire licenses, but allows them to sell dogs directly to customers without oversight. The Internet has made it possible for breeders to connect directly to consumers, meaning that breeders now double as de facto online pet stores.
This loophole allows “puppy mills,” breeders who aim only at profit and keep puppies in cheap, utterly horrific surroundings, to operate legally and profit handsomely. They sell the puppies directly to happy pet owners, who are oblivious to the fact that their new family member came from a place with “inadequate food and water, [where dogs were housed in] in wire cages with wire flooring so their paws never touch the ground; [and] female dogs mated to produce litter after litter until they can no longer do so and are then killed.” Inspections of two puppy mills in Ohio found, respectively, that “dogs and pups [were] living in horrid conditions and many were sick, emaciated and had visible infections and sores” and “[dogs were] matted with urine, feces and fleas [whose] nails were curled under the pads of feet…Many [had] severe dental disease and 17 [had] eye infections.”
One estimate suggests that several hundred thousand puppy-mill dogs per year are sold online because of the online loophole. Investigators at the International Fund for Animal Welfare asked several experts on puppy mill operations and dog breeding to examine the ads at major online sellers and develop an estimate, based on general characteristics common to puppy mill ads, of how many puppy mill dogs were sold through these websites per year. Their results were shocking:
Using the criteria developed by the expert panel, investigators found that 5,911 of the ads qualified as “likely puppy mill,” which equaled 62% of the ads analyzed from the six dedicated puppy sale websites. Further applying this 10% sample with the 62% “likely puppy mill” findings to the six websites would mean that as many as 57,447 ads and 107,425 individual puppies would potentially be classified as stemming from a “likely puppy mill” on that one day of the investigation…given the conservative nature of the determinations and the strong likelihood that many puppy mill ads were overlooked due to marketing manipulation, the expert panel and investigators felt that the total number of puppies coming from puppy mills may have been significantly underestimated.
The PUPS act would (judging from a draft proposed last legislative session) address this problem by extending the AWA commercial breeder rules to all breeders that sell 50 or more dogs per year and creating new exercise standards requiring breeders to let their dogs move around. The USDA recently proposed its own regulation accomplishing a similar effect last year, but it has yet to be implemented.