Today the Obama Administration, admirably, issued two notices from two different federal agencies on new proposals to advance animal welfare. The first item, which you can read about on Wayne Pacelle’s blog, is a positive finding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on a petition filed by The HSUS and other groups to begin a review of whether all chimpanzees should be listed as an endangered species, addressing the current lack of protection for captive chimps in entertainment, as pets, and in labs. And the second item, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is a long-awaited proposed rule designed to prevent the import of puppies from foreign puppy mills for resale in the United States.
When Congress passed the 2008 Farm Bill, HSLF and others successfully pressed for changes to the Animal Welfare Act to prevent sick and vulnerable young puppies from being shipped into our country for the pet trade. But a law on the books is only as good as its enforcement and implementation. While the congressional passage of the provision was more than three years ago, until now the USDA had not issued regulations designed to actually implement and enforce the law.
As the U.S. confronts its own puppy mill problem by passing new and improved state laws every year, for too long pet dealers looking to make a quick buck have been circumventing U.S. regulations by importing puppies from overseas and across our borders. These puppies come from questionable sources, often raised in filthy and overcrowded conditions. Many are taken from their mothers before they are even weaned and before their immune systems have had a chance to develop. They are then subjected to harsh, long-distance transport in cramped containers, often exposed to extreme temperatures of heat or cold and infectious diseases along the way, solely to satisfy consumers’ demands for the tiniest purebred or “designer” puppies. Not surprisingly, many of these puppies die in cargo holds or shortly after arrival.
The proposed rule requires that dogs imported for resale be in good health, have received all necessary vaccinations, and be at least six months of age, which addresses the most acute problems with unweaned pets in long-distance travel from other countries, and gives law enforcement a mechanism for determining the age of puppies being transported. The law will not prevent individuals from transporting their own pets, the importation of dogs for non-commercial purposes or veterinary treatment, or the transport of dogs for research.
Finally the law we helped pass in 2008 will have teeth, and enforcement can begin in earnest. This move strikes a blow to the overseas puppy mill industry and to the U.S. importers who profit from it. It will stem the tide of unweaned puppies, many sick or dying, flooding the gates of our airports, and will help to stop the spread of large-scale puppy mills in China, Eastern Europe, Mexico, and other nations that are taking advantage of American pet lovers.
The USDA is accepting public comments on the proposed rule for 60 days. Please write to let the USDA know you support the proposed rule, and encourage swift passage and enforcement to crack down on puppy mill imports.