Full Title Name:  Brief Summary of Commercial Breeders and Puppy Mills

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Kimberly Barnes Place of Publication:  Michigan State University College of Law Publish Year:  2017 Primary Citation:  Animal Legal & Historical Center 0 Country of Origin:  United States
Summary: This provides a brief overview of the commercial breeding industry in the United States.

Commercial breeders may sometimes operate under such conditions that justify calling their operation a “puppy mill.” The term “puppy mill” means a breeding environment in which puppies, bred primarily in pursuit of profit, are cared for only minimally. These minimum standards may actually meet federal or state regulations, because some standards allow for cost-saving practices (such as cage-stacking) and are silent as to other practices (such as how many times a breeding female may be bred in a given time period).                                                                 

Under federal law, the Animal Welfare Act (“AWA”) is the only law that governs the humane treatment of animals bred for purposes of sale. Those who fall under the scope of the AWA must be licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) through a branch called APHIS—the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The USDA/APHIS creates minimum standards of care, licenses certain breeders, inspects their facilities, and enforces violations of the AWA.

Aside from the minimum federal standards, states are free to pass laws that go beyond the requirements laid out in the AWA. In fact, the majority of states have passed laws to supplement the AWA, such as requiring higher standards of care, or establishing more inspection and enforcement mechanisms. Today, only 21 states remain without any laws on or relating to commercial breeders.

Yet the main issue when it comes to commercial breeding stems from a lack of oversight and enforcement—both at the federal and state levels. APHIS has faced sharp criticism, both by animal welfare advocates and the USDA itself, for inadequate enforcement against violators of the AWA. However, APHIS has a limited budget allocated to it by Congress, and tougher enforcement requires more inspectors and staff to carry out that task. Individual states have similarly found ineffective enforcement of their animal welfare laws, leading to the conclusion that something more is required to address the puppy mill industry than simply passing laws that regulate it.

Another problem is the rise of “backyard breeders.” Backyard breeders are either not required to be licensed at either the federal or state level because they do not breed enough dogs for state regulation, or they simply do not obtain licenses when they are otherwise required to. Furthermore, while many pet stores only purchase puppies from USDA licensed breeders, the increasing market for puppies sold over the Internet allow for some unscrupulous breeders to operate under the radar. That is, the continued prevalence of puppy mills in the United States appears to result from a mixture of minimal federal standards, lax oversight, and backyard breeders able to sell direct over the Internet without being subject to any regulation whatsoever.

In response, a growing number of cities and counties have approached the issue by banning pet shops from sourcing from anywhere besides a rescue organization. This approach, which has survived several legal challenges, has been criticized for unfairly burdening pet stores and limiting consumer choice. Nonetheless, advocates say that these laws, together with consumer education, seem to be the best way to limit the spread of puppy mills.


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