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USDA APHIS Finalizes Rule Impacting Pet Breeders

Tuesday, September 10, 2013 – Today, the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS) released a finalized version of new federal regulations that narrow the definition of a “retail pet store” with the purpose of bringing internet-based pet breeders and sellers under the regulation of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The rule, originally proposed in May 2012 and essentially unchanged, effectively expands USDA oversight of pet breeders to include people who maintain more than four “breeding females” of any species and sell even one pet “sight unseen”.

“We are dismayed by the rule. It is overly broad and will do more damage than good. The federal government has missed an opportunity to introduce a smarter, more effective rule to deter unscrupulous breeders and sellers by imposing a regulation based on the number of dogs sold, not the number of dogs a person owns,” said AKC spokesperson Lisa Peterson.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) shares the USDA’s concern about unscrupulous and potentially substandard puppy sellers; and encourages responsible puppy buyers to meet the breeders of their new puppy and to work with responsible breeders to understand the commitment, challenges and requirements that a puppy of their chosen breed requires.

The AKC, however, is extremely disappointed that USDA APHIS, by adopting the rule in the same form it was originally proposed, did not heed the comments of hundreds of thousands of responsible dog breeders and owners concerned with the complexity and ambiguity of this potentially onerous new rule. Specifically, the rule will:

Increase the “retail pet store” exemption to include those maintaining 4 or fewer breeding females. Those with four or fewer “breeding females” will not be subject to USDA licensure and inspection. The AKC appreciates the intent of a continued exemption for small hobby breeders.

Deem any “sight-unseen” sale a covered activity, making the seller subject to USDA licensure and regulation. The AKC remains steadfast in believing that the rule will unreasonably require regulatory compliance of many more individuals than originally intended by treating those who sell a dog “sight unseen”—perhaps due to repeat buyers or other known purchasers—in the same manner as commercial internet-based sellers. The AKC believes that reasonable regulation of true commercial breeding enterprises or Internet sellers, where regulation is based on the actual numbers of dogs sold, is a better alternative to regulation based on the number of dogs a person owns. If the goal is to regulate internet sales, then such sales should be defined to include only internet sales. If the goal is to regulate all commercial breeder/retailers, a better definition for this call would be those who produce and sell more than 50 puppies in a year.

Use the vague definition of “breeding female” as one having the capability of breeding. Currently, the USDA defines “breeding female” as “capacity to breed” and bases this assessment on a visual inspection on the ground of the animals involved, determining whether they are “of breeding age” and whether there are health or other factors that would limit that. The AKC believes that this is not a practical, efficient, or clear way to establish a threshold for licensing and regulation, as it does not allow either APHIS or a breeder to assess whether a seller would be subject to licensing, regulation, and inspection without first being inspected by APHIS. The AKC remains extremely concerned that the rule will make it difficult for individuals to self-report, as they would not be able to know—without an APHIS inspection and examination of their animals before applying for a license—whether they would be required to obtain a license.

Impose operational standards originally designed for commercial-type facilities fail to account for circumstances appropriate for how hobby/fancy breeders who will be subject to the regulations will keep their dogs. As a result of AKC’s long history and breadth of experience in advancing the care and conditions of dogs and conducting kennel inspections, we know that there are a wide variety of circumstances and kinds of facilities in which dogs may be suitably raised and maintained. AKC’s Care and Conditions policy is based on performance standards, rather than strict engineering requirements. This is because many breeds would fail to thrive in the required commercial kennel setting and, therefore, are better raised in residential settings. It is not reasonable to expect small breeders, who keep a handful of dogs and make a choice to raise dogs in their homes, to be able to meet exacting USDA kennel engineering standards that are designed for large commercial wholesale or research kennels. Likewise, many could be prevented from adapting their facilities because of local ordinances, zoning limitations, restrictions on their ability to obtain business licenses or necessary insurance. We believe performance-based standards are a better option for small home-based operations. The AKC believes that the continued effort to subject small home-based breeding operations to the same exacting standards required of purely commercial facilities is unreasonable and unnecessary.

To learn more about our specific concerns with the rule, please visit AKC’s USDA Regulatory Resources Page.

NEXT STEPS:

USDA APHIS expects the final rule to be published in the Federal Register later this week. The rule will become effective 60 days after publication.

The AKC is dedicated to supporting the well-being of all dogs and responsible dog owners and breeders. We are extremely disappointed with the content of the final rule and we will continue to study this rule and assess all options for addressing our ongoing concerns.

The AKC will continue to provide additional information and analysis regarding specific impacts and what this rule may mean to responsible dog owners, breeders and the dog-loving public in general. Please remember that as a matter of company policy, the American Kennel Club does not release the registration information or history of any customer without a court order. The AKC, however, does expect individuals to comply with all applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations regarding the ownership and maintenance of dogs.

For more information and updates, visit AKC GR’s online USDA/APHIS Regulations Resource Page; or contact AKC’s Government Relations Department at doglaw@akc.org.

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