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Federal Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Crack Down on Abusive Puppy Mills

Legislation seeks to close loophole allowing Internet breeders to sell puppies without federal oversight

WASHINGTON  — The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund commend federal lawmakers for introducing bills that will crack down on abusive puppy mills in the United States — where dogs are commonly housed in overcrowded, filthy, and inhumane conditions. The legislation will close a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act that currently allows large, commercial breeders who sell puppies online and directly to the public to escape licensing and regulation.

The legislation — known as the PUPS Act, for "Puppy Uniform Protection Statute"— was introduced in the Senate today by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. David Vitter, R-La. A companion bill is expected to be introduced shortly in the House of Representatives, as well, by Reps. Sam Farr, D-Calif., Jim Gerlach, R-Pa., Lois Capps, D-Calif., and Bill Young, R-Fla.

The bills 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.

"Man's best friend shouldn't be treated like a cash crop," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. "We are grateful to federal lawmakers for introducing this legislation to curb the worst abuses in the puppy mill industry. It's a much-needed upgrade to our nation's laws that will help protect dogs in mass breeding facilities from cruelty and harm."

Facilities that breed dogs for commercial resale through pet stores are required to be licensed and inspected under the federal Animal Welfare Act. But 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, their puppies are often sick, leaving outraged consumers with frail, sometimes dying puppies and high vet bills. Meanwhile, the breeding dogs at these facilities often spend their entire lives in constant confinement and deprivation.

This bill comes at an opportune time, as The Office of Inspector General released a report today criticizing USDA'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 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 week, 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."

"This report raises serious concerns about APHIS' ability to enforce the law, ensure the welfare of animals, and crack down on the most negligent and irresponsible dog breeders," said Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin. "While USDA has already begun to make administrative changes at APHIS, more needs to be done. I will work closely with Secretary Vilsack to ensure these changes address the complaints detailed in the Inspector General's report. I'll start today by introducing a bill that will close the loophole that allows large breeders to sell puppies online, escaping inspection and oversight."

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 commercial breeding facilities.


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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the Web at humanesociety.org.

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. On the web at hslf.org.

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