Opening Statements

New laws are cracking down on puppy mills and pet shops

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Animal welfare advocates are showing they have some bite in their bark as they score legal victories against one of their long-standing foes: puppy mills.

Around the country, state and local legislatures are passing laws aimed at shutting down the large, commercial pet-breeding operations that critics say impose inhumane living conditions on dogs and the puppies that fill pet store windows.

Some 45 cities, including Chicago and San Diego, have adopted varying bans aimed at preventing pet stores from buying their puppies from large commercial breeders. This tactic in effect cuts off demand for the puppy mill puppies. The Chicago ordinance requires that pet stores instead procure their puppy stock from shelters or humane, nonprofit organizations.

Consumers often “don’t necessarily realize or understand that if they buy that dog they’re actually supporting a large commercial breeding facility where breeder dogs are being terribly treated,” says Rebecca Huss, an animal law professor at Valparaiso University and former chair of the American Bar Association’s Animal Law Committee.


While animal welfare advocates are gaining ground, there have been some victories for their opponents. In Phoenix, in response to a recently adopted anti-puppy mill ordinance, owners of a local pet store sued the city, arguing that the ordinance would put them out of business. In April, a federal court granted a preliminary injunction, in part reasoning that the pet store showed a likelihood of suffering “irreparable harm” to the business.

The federal government has long had a hand in regulating the commercial sale of pets. Under the 1966 Animal Welfare Act, large breeders are required to obtain a license to ensure they maintain a certain standard of care for their animals. However, faced with severe budget constraints, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has often been unable to enforce the rules.

Also, for years under the act, large breeders that sold puppies over the Internet escaped regulation by the USDA. The online breeders were able to claim special status under the AWA that was designed to discharge brick-and-mortar pet shops from federal supervision since customers in theory could serve as a form of public oversight.

In recent years, however, a growing number of large-scale breeders were selling puppies online sight unseen yet still claiming the pet store exemption, to the alarm of regulators.

Late last year, under pressure from animal advocates, the USDA changed the definition of “retail pet store” to encompass many of those online retailers.

In response, a group of breeders—ranging from the Goldendoodle Association of North America to the Chihuahua Club of America—sued the USDA saying that small, responsible breeders are unfairly being lumped in with more unsavory breeders. The lawsuit argues that the agency exceeded its authority under the Animal Welfare Act and violated the Administrative Procedure Act.

“These new requirements, which originally were proposed for one sector of the retail pet store industry—large breeders selling over the Internet—have in the final rule been extended to apply to members of plaintiffs, which are small-scale breeders, without any record support for doing so,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed in December and is still pending.

This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “How Much Is That Puppy in the Window? New laws are cracking down on puppy mills and pet shops.”

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