Durbin Calls for Stronger Policing Standards for Puppy Mills

[CHICAGO, IL] – A loophole in current law being exploited by large, negligent puppy breeders would be closed under a measure U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced this week in the U.S. Senate, the senator told animal welfare advocates and dog owners today. 
The legislation is intended to correct the failures of the unregulated and often hidden elements of the puppy breeding industry, which too often involve puppies housed in cramped, unsanitary and inhumane conditions.  The dogs raised in those substandard facilities and sold to unsuspecting families often suffer serious health problems and, tragically, many die as a result.  Current federal law does not regulate, license or inspect breeders who sell puppies over directly to the public, resulting in an enormous loophole as online puppy sales now bypass those of retail stores. 
In response to a USDA Inspector General report critical of the government’s handling of puppy mill investigations, which was released earlier this week, Durbin introduced his Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety (PUPS) Act, which requires licensing and inspection of dog breeders that sell more than 50 dogs per year directly to the public.  It also requires that dogs in commercial breeding facilities have appropriate space and opportunity for regular exercise.  He also called for immediate changes at the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) and promised to work with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on administrative and legislative reforms. 
“This report raises serious concerns about APHIS’ ability to enforce the law, ensure the welfare of animals, and crack down on the most negligent and irresponsible dog breeders,” Durbin said. “While USDA has already begun to make administrative changes at APHIS, more needs to be done.  I will work closely with Secretary Vilsack to ensure these changes address the complaints detailed in the Inspector General’s report.  I’ll start today by introducing a bill that will close the loophole that allows large breeders to sell puppies online, escaping inspection and oversight.”  If administrative fixes aren’t possible, Durbin plans to introduce additional legislation to address any gaps in APHIS’ ability to enforce the law.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General conducted an audit of APHIS’ Animal Care Unit and found four major flaws with their handling of puppy mill investigations:
  • APHIS’ “enforcement process was ineffective against problematic dealers.” The IG report shows that more than half of the dog breeding facilities found to be in violation of the Animal Welfare Act repeatedly violated the law — some as many as a dozen times
  • APHIS “inspectors did not document violations properly.”  According to the report, 30% of inspectors failed to correctly report violations, resulting in some known violators receiving less frequent inspections and escaping strong enforcement. The report also says the reporting failure resulted in nearly 50% of all administrative hearings with problem dealers being compromised due to lack of evidence.
  • “APHIS misused guidelines to lower penalties for violators.” In over 30% of cases, APHIS misused their own enforcement guidelines by inconsistently counting violations, applying penalty reductions without merit, and arbitrarily changing the gravity of some violations.”
  • Large puppy mills “circumvented the law by selling animals over the internet.” Because of a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act, large puppy mills that sell dogs online are exempt from APHIS inspection and licensing requirement.

A copy of the IG report can be found online at http://www.usda.gov/oig/new.htm