Americans love online shopping. Websites like Amazon and Zappos now compete with big box stores like Walmart and Target, at times beating them in sales. Unfortunately, the shadiest and cruelest pet businesses also ride the lucrative wave of the Internet bubble. Like online scammers, these puppy mill owners disguise themselves as legitimate operations by posting stock photos of cute puppies and staged pictures of their so-called kennels in semi-professional websites. To the average person, these places seem as reliable and safe as eBay, but nothing could be further from the truth… Jenny Smith (client’s real name withheld), for example, saw a beautiful pup in one of those websites and immediately fell in love.  She paid $1000 through an online payment service like PayPal for an adorable Malti-Poo, not knowing that it came from a puppy mill in Minnesota. To get her little furball, she had to go through intermediaries that assured her their dogs came from a loving environment, but that it was unsafe for the general public to see the kennels. It could harm the fragile litters, they explained her. Ignoring the signs, Jenny took the puppy home. 

Four days later, the Malti-Poo died of what her vet diagnosed as a Portosystemic Shunt (PSS), commonly known as a liver Shunt. This is a hereditary condition, although acquired PSS can on rare cases occur in dogs with liver diseases. Her vet told her the breeder or the breeder’s vet had to know about it at birth. Since she bought the dog over the Internet and never knew the location of the breeder’s facility, Jenny was left with only a phone number. She never got her money back, and the person she contacted told her they were no longer responsible for the dog’s health. What started with a cute photo on a website ended with a traumatic loss of a companion and an expensive bill. 

Recently, the Department of Agriculture announced a proposed amendment to the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to close a loophole that allowed unscrupulous breeders to sell puppy mill dogs over the Internet. The change will prevent sneaky mill owners, like the one who sold the Malti-Poo to Jenny, from continuing their operations outside the bounds of AWA. It will make it harder for these scams to pop up because the facilities will have to be either inspected or open to the public and subject to local laws. 

CAPS wholeheartedly supports this move because it is a much needed update to the almost half-a-century-old AWA. It is also an acknowledgement by the federal government that current animal welfare regulations are outdated and ineffective at preventing animal cruelty. Over the years, CAPS has uncovered a number of puppy mills that take advantage of the murky, mostly unregulated Internet market. They use evasive techniques to remain outside the boundaries of AWA and run subpar breeding facilities, but with new technology they can now go beyond the use of phone, classifieds and direct mail, and expand their business on the web.

For consumers, the most important part of this change will be that no person will be allowed to sell dogs without a USDA license or a physical place, like a pet shop or store, open to the public. The new changes won’t mean the end of puppy mills because a large number of USDA licensed facilities have multiple AWA violations and still supply sickly pups to consumers, brokers, and pet shops across the US. However, it is a step in the right direction and signals a larger overhaul. Just last year, the USDA announced regulations to enforce a ban on the importation of puppies younger than six month of age, which was part of the Farm Bill of 2008. When the rule becomes official, it will give the USDA the power to stop the influx of puppy mill dogs from anywhere outside the US – including Canada and Mexico – by banning too young or sickly pups to even enter the United States. 

For more about the new regulations and other helpful information, click out the following links:

Proposed amendment to AWA:
Rule on Importation of Live Dogs;;D=APHIS-2009-0053-0001
CAPS factsheet about why you shouldn’t buy a puppy online:

USDA Proposes New Rule to Regulate Internet Dog Dealers (article by CAPS West Director Carole Davis):

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