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USDA Moves to Regulate Internet Pet Sales

Posted September 27, 2013 in A Vet's Life

For more from Dr. Ernie Ward, find him on Facebook or at www.drernieward.com.

Online animal sales: it starts with a Google search and it ends with new enforcement from the USDA. And I think this is a step in the right direction.

The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) recently revised its rule to help curtail sight-unseen sales of animals over the Internet. In doing so it is closing a loophole inadvertently created in 1966 when the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) was enacted. The AWA originally set minimal living standards for animals for retail sale. Pet retail stores were exempted from AWA because buyers were able to examine the animals prior to purchase, thereby ensuring proper living conditions. Previously, if you sold any animal without allowing the purchaser to see face-to-face the animals and conditions in which they were housed, the facility needed to be inspected and licensed by the USDA APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service). This worked fine as long as most animals were sold in a traditional pet store setting. Well, maybe not fine, but at least in accordance with the AWA. As time marched onward, the way people purchasedpets began to change.

Fast-forward to 2013 and the USDA found that over 80% of dog breeders were not licensed under AWA because they claimed “retail pet store” exempt status. The problem was, these breeders were selling their animals over the Internet, sight-unseen, thereby violating the spirit of the AWA. In May 2012 the USDA’s APHIS declared it was time to change their definition of “retail pet store” to reflect current technology and trends. Eighteen months later, in November 2013, we may actually see these much needed changes take effect.

The rule change is far from perfect, but I applaud any attempt to curtail Internet sales of animals. It’s been too easy for too long for unscrupulous breeders to hide behind a pretty website. Breeders who’ve been doing the right thing all along should have nothing to fear. Those who wish to keep animals in less than ideal settings will not welcome an APHIS inspector knocking on their kennel door.

Keep in mind the original purpose of the AWA was to make sure breeding animals had the most basic and humane living arrangements possible. Some claim its just another way for the government to take their money. I say it’s the price to ensure puppies and

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Ernie has more than 20 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a well-known veterinarian, media personality and author. He is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.

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The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author's and do not necessarily represent the beliefs, policies or positions of all veterinarians, Pet Health Network, IDEXX Laboratories, Inc. or its affiliates and partner companies.