Federal rule aims to crack down on online puppy sales

Time was, when you wanted to buy or adopt a dog you had to physically go somewhere to get him. You drove to the shelter or the breeder.

The Internet changed all that. Now you can order your bulldog or Yorkie from Russia or Kansas or Lancaster County and it will be shipped to you.

But buyer beware the Internet is full of scams and dog breeding is no different. Unlike kennels that sell to pet stores, which are mandated to be inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, those that sell online are completely unregulated by the federal government.

This vast unregulated market allowed puppy mills to thrive and left consumers who purchase sick or defective dogs with nowhere to turn.

That changed last week with the announcement by USDA that it will adopt a rule change that extends federal oversight to online dog sellers.

The Humane Society of the United States and tbe ASPCA say the vast majority of puppy mills they have shut down over the years had escaped federal oversight because of the loophole.

We wonder what this rule will do police online "aggregators" of puppies, like www.greenfieldpuppies.com and www.lancasterpuppies.com - just to name two that advertise Pennsylvania puppies, which are widely used by unlicensed breeders to sell dogs.

The new rules would end the sight-unseen purchase of puppies. Either the consumer sees the animal or the seller purchases a federal license allowing inspectors to see the animals.

Animal welfare groups and members of Congress who have advanced legislation on the subject, applauded the decision.

“Internet sellers of dogs show the animals frolicking in grassy fields, but our investigations paint an entirely different picture: mother dogs, bred incessantly, confined in small wire cages, denied veterinary care, and exposed to extremes of heat and colds,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the HSUS. “Pressure from Congress helped plug the gaping hole in our federal laws relating to inspections of puppy mill operators.”

U.S. Sens David Vitter (R-LA) and Dick Durbin (D- IL), sponsors of legislation to close the Internet loophole, called it an important step to ensure that all dogs - whether sold online or in pet stores - are treated with care and compassion.

“Too often, the media reports stories about dogs rescued from substandard facilities -- where puppies are housed in stacked wire cages and routinely denied access to veterinary care. Unfortunately, online dog sales have contributed to the rise of these sad cases” Durbin said.

The American Kennel Club voiced its opposition to the rule, as they have virtually all federal and state animal welfare laws, saying it would impose undue burdens on "reputable breeders." The new rule exempts breeders owning four or fewer breeding females, but the AKC said that the rule should be based on the number of dogs sold not the number of dogs owned.

Of course, tracking those dog sales is extremely difficult as evidenced by the efforts by the Pennsylvania Dog Law office to crack down on unlicensed  breeders, most of which use puppy sale sites or online classified ads. Many are not identified by full names, use multiple phone numbers, advertise under different names and sell via an array of websites.

Pacelle cautions that the rule won't end puppy mills but "it’s still important for any potential puppy buyer to meet the breeder in person at his or her facility to see how and where a puppy was born and raised."

He said the rule has "the potential to allow federal inspectors to peer behind the closed doors of puppy mills and improve the lives of tens of thousands of animals."