This means kennel owners who breed more than four females and sell the puppies electronically, by mail or over the phone will be subject to the same regulations as pet store wholesalers under the Animal Welfare Act.
The new regulation will likely have a significant impact in Pennsylvania where large numbers of commercial breeders have given up their USDA licenses and are selling on the Internet through such websites as www.greenfieldpuppies.com and www.lancasterpuppies.com. Unless they still retain their state licenses, they are not subject to any oversight.
Hobby breeders, including AKC and other dog registry breeders, with more than four breeding females who sell through the Internet must also comply with the regulations, unless they agree to open their homes to the public. In Pennsylvania a breeder must sell more than 25 dogs in order to be required to have a state license and therefore be subject to inspection.
The 1966 Animal Welfare Law had exempted retail sales from inspections under the assumption that anyone who visited the store could see whether the animals appeared healthy. But over the past decade the Internet opened new avenues for puppy sales, creating a loophole used by many large scale breeders to escape federal oversight.
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, praised the USDA for closing the loophole. "Dogs on puppy mills often live in small, overcrowded cages, living in filth and denied veterinary care," he said. "We need more eyes on these operations, and this rule will help."
Other animal welfare experts praised the development but remain concerned about the agency's enforcement abilities. "It's a good thing," said Bob Baker, executive director of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislative. "My concern is about an agency that has said it doesn't have resources to cover all wholesalers."
Even dog breedier groups which have opposed most, if not all puppy mill legislation around the country have signed on.
"You need to open your home if you breed more than four dogs. That sounds appropriate to me," Patti Strand, director of the National Animal Interest Alliance, told the Associated Press.
Pennsylvania Rep. Jim Gerlach was among the federal lawmakers leading the effort to pass legislation (Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety Act) that would have had the same effect as the regulations.
"Today's announcement by the USDA brings much needed oversight to the previously unregulated puppy mills raising puppies under terrible conditions. This rule will put an end to a loophole in the law that was being exploited by large, negligent puppy breeders, and is an important step towards ensuring that all dogs – whether they are sold online or in a pet store – are treated with care and compassion," said Sen. Dick Durbin (D., IL).