Full Title Name:  Brief Overview of Commercial Breeder Laws

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Robyn F. Katz Place of Publication:  Michigan State University College of Law Publish Year:  2008 Primary Citation:  Animal Legal & Historical Center

This brief summary discusses what a commercial breeder does and what laws govern breeding operations. It then goes into how loopholes in state laws allow puppy mills to thrive. The article concludes with the idea that more states need to adopt stricter breeder laws and consumers need to do their part by not buying puppies raised in puppy mills.


A commercial breeder is someone who breeds dogs for a living. There are different definitions of the term “breeder” depending on which law one uses. Commercial breeders sometimes fall under federal law with the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act governs commercial dog breeding to an extent, but has loopholes that many breeders use to avoid the regulations. It is important that there are laws that apply to commercial breeding operations because the businesses need to ensure the safety of the dogs.

States are in control of most of animal welfare laws including any that may concern commercial breeders. For example, a state may need to pass a law that requires inspections for breeding facilities. At the federal level, it is difficult to monitor all fifty states and every breeding operation within them. While many states do have laws regulating commercial breeding, some do not (about half of the states). Further, some states' laws differ so drastically from nearby states that the breeder can easily decide to move to the state that has the least restrictive laws. The state laws that are in place typically instruct breeders on how to legally maintain a breeding facility, identify registration fees, inform about inspections, mandate specific requirements related to the maintenance of the facility (veterinary care for the dogs, size of cages, hazardous chemicals near the cages), and alert breeders of penalties they will face if they violate the laws.

While responsible breeders try to place desired dogs with competent homes, the number of irresponsible breeders has risen in recent years with the growing demand for purebred and designer dogs. This, along with the lack of an overarching federal law, and weak state laws, leads to the problem of puppy mills. Puppy mills are breeding facilities that maintain deplorable conditions for the dogs, are often unregulated, and escape the laws through current loopholes. Puppy mills often sell the dogs to pet stores and through the Internet, and eager consumers with little knowledge about where the dogs came from end up with the puppies.

More states need to incorporate stricter licensing requirements that are easily enforceable and address both retail pet stores and Internet sales. Effective on January 1, 2009, Virginia will be the first state to require that a commercial breeder conform to business standards.   This will create higher standards of care that a breeder must meet to be licensed by the state.   Even with greater enforcement of laws and more states enacting new laws, this ultimately an issue of supply and demand.   If consumers keep buying dogs from sources that sell puppy mill dogs, the puppy mills will continue supplying to the public.   As a result, the consumer’s roll in this tragedy is critical to change the direction of this disturbing trend.



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