hOW MUch IS ThAT DOggIE ON My BROWSER? - International ...
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© IFAW/L. cAnt-HAyLett InTrODUcTIOn Introduction On May 10, 2012, the U.S. Government announced a proposal to create new federal regulations in an attempt to better monitor and regulate the sale of certain pets—in particular, dogs. The declaration came as a response to decades of criticism of current policies failing to adequately protect hundreds of thousands of dogs from the horrors of certain commercial dog breeders putting economic gain over animal welfare—operations more commonly known as “puppy mills.” The term “puppy mill” was coined after World War II, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) encouraged struggling farmers to raise puppies as an alternative “crop.” Today, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) estimates there could be as many as 9,000 to 10,000 high-volume commercial puppy breeders operating in the U.S .1 Before the advent of the Internet, puppy mill puppies—sometimes younger than eight weeks old—were typically only sold to pet shops, usually through a broker, and strategically marketed to unknowing buyers. 2 The Truth Behind Online Puppy Sales Today, the Internet is a lead platform for puppy sales. While the newly proposed federal policies appear to be a step in the right direction of regulating puppy mill operations, any emerging regulations and accompanying enforcement strategies will be fatally flawed unless they are able to address the full scope and scale of the puppy trade over the world’s largest marketplace: the World Wide Web. Publication of this report marks the first publically available, large-scale investigation and examination of the connection between Internet puppy sales and puppy mill operators. Up to this point, no entity had attempted an investigation of this magnitude, partly because the Internet as a platform for sales of live animals is still fairly new, and also because the venue is massive—not only challenging to quantify, but also complicated to regulate and enforce. The term “puppy mill” was coined after World War II, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture encouraged struggling farmers to raise puppies as an alternative “crop.”
© IFAW/K. WApAHA Existing Regulations The U.S. Animal Welfare Act (AWA) requires certain commercial pet breeders—namely, those who sell wholesale and not to the end pet owner—to be licensed and routinely inspected by the USDA, and more specifically by the Animal Plant Health and Inspection Service (APHIS). This policy exists, in part, to “insure that animals intended for use… as pets are provided humane care and treatment” 2 The Act provides minimum care standards for a list animals by a host of possible owners, including but not limited to pet dealers. However for decades, USDA-APHIS has interpreted the Act to exempt “retail pet stores” from these requirements, and thus, anyone selling directly to a potential pet owner. To this day, the exemption fosters a massive loophole that not only allows but encourages unscrupulous entrepreneurs in the dog breeding industry—some with well over 500 breeding dogs 3 —to sell directly to customers without any regulatory oversight via methods like newspaper ads or the telephone. As admitted by USDA-APHIS since 2009, 4 this allowance flies in the face of the AWA “humane treatment and care” dictate. Because of the loophole, there are thousands of large-scale breeding facilities in the U.S. producing more than half a million puppies per year with no government oversight; these animals are forced to live—or, more appropriately, survive 5 —in the exact dramatically substandard conditions that the AWA was designed to prevent. Investigations of these facilities by the USDA Office of the Inspector General and non-profit organizations have shown these dogs frequently living in starvation and filth, and irrecoverable bodily and mental harm as more the norm than the exception. 6 These puppy mill operators have caught the attention of the public, Congress, and animal advocates, all of whom have pointed-out that these dog breeders are exploiting the loophole in existing laws by selling most of these puppies directly to customers, sight unseen. 7 A BETTER WORLD FOR ANIMALS AND PEOPLE Internet Commerce In 1971, USDA-APHIS defined “retail pet store” to apply to outlets where pets were only sold to local consumers and thus subject to “a degree of self-regulation and oversight by persons who purchase animals from the retailers’ homes.” 8 However, the arrival of the Internet in the early 1990’s drastically challenged the application of this definition, which was already being circumvented on a smaller scale with direct sales by phone and newspaper. “…[T]he definition was broadly interpreted to include Internet breeders because they also sell directly to consumers. However, these breeders are no longer limited to local consumers but can sell and transport animals nationwide… there is no degree of self-regulation and oversight because consumers do not have access to their facilities.” 9 As a result, Internet marketplaces have become a major platform for commercial breeders to sell their puppies directly to the public, sight unseen and without regulation. In minutes, consumers can view multiple advertisements for puppies all at once. And the numbers are staggering. According to the American Pet Products Association, 150,000 dogs were bought online annually as far back as 2006. 10 Given consumer demand and the soaring growth of the Internet, today’s numbers are likely to be far higher. The Internet is the world’s largest marketplace, open 24-hours a day, 7-days a week. It is anonymous, unmonitored and practically unregulated. Within this untamed “Wild West”, it is not surprising that profiteers have found ways to exploit the dog market, a continually booming business in the U.S. 11 “Many puppy mills directly sell the dogs they breed to consumers through…the Internet, often posing as small, family breeders,” 12 and many consumers have complained about the deaths and myriad health problems suffered by Internet-purchased puppies as a result. 13 The USDA’s recent proposal to reign in exploitation of dogs and other domestic animals over the Internet may help the situation. However, it will likely be years before the new policies are enacted, and to this day, commercial sales of dogs over the Internet remain unregulated and exploited. 14 Without a full understanding of the breadth of puppy mill sales online, the government will be hard-pressed to allocate appropriate resources to make a significant impact on this cruel cyber-trade. International Fund for Animal Welfare 3
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