USDA seeks change to regulate Internet pet sales

Associated Press Modified: May 10, 2012 at 4:01 pm •  Published: May 10, 2012
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Dog breeders who skirt animal welfare laws by selling puppies over the Internet would face tighter scrutiny under a rule change proposed Thursday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The change would subject dog owners who breed more than four females and sell the puppies electronically, by mail or over the phone to the same oversight faced by wholesale dealers as part of the Animal Welfare Act.

That law, written in 1966, set standards of care for animals bred for commercial sale and research. Retail sales were exempt from inspections under the assumption that anyone who visited the store could see whether the animals appeared healthy and cared for.

The Internet opened a new venue for puppy sales, and thousands of large-scale breeders who advertise there have not been subject to oversight or inspection.

The proposed change seeks to close that loophole by ensuring that anyone who sells pets over the Internet, by phone or mail order can no longer do so sight-unseen. Sellers either must open their doors to the public so buyers can see the animals before they purchase them, or obtain a license and be subject to inspections by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

"We feel this is certainly a much-needed change to an outdated system," said Rebecca Blue, deputy undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs.

The change does not affect backyard breeders who sell puppies from their homes or other physical locations. Blue said it's designed to ensure that dogs sold and shipped to buyers are healthy, treated well and genetically sound.

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