Summary List PlacementOne upside to the pandemic for many this past year was adding a new, four-legged member to their home. People love their dogs, and dogs love them. But new legislation addresses some practices seen as inhumane to pups waiting for a home.
The Puppy Protection Act, introduced this week by a dozen Democrats in the US Senate, aims to improve the conditions in which so many animals are produced: in so-called puppy mills, where caged dogs, one on top of the other, are often deprived of socialization, fresh air, and good hygiene.
Sen. Dick Durbin, a member of Democratic leadership from Illinois, said Tuesday his goal is to protect such animals “from neglectful breeders who have evaded proper oversight and inspection in the past.”
There are at least 10,000 puppy mills in the United States, with over 213,000 dogs kept solely to breed, according to the Humane Society. On average, each mother produces about nine babies a year, coming out to more than 13 million puppies to be sold annually.
But only about 2,000 commercial breeders are subject to regulation by the US Department of Agriculture. And that regulation — the subject of this bill — allows for conditions that animal rights advocates see as deplorable, such as permitting dogs to be kept in cramped cages, stacked on top of each other, in overcrowded rooms.
“We’ve seen animals never leave those stacked cages,” Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, told Insider. “How on Earth is man’s best friend supposed to be socialized and interactive with us if they don’t even have the opportunity to put their feet on grass?”
The bill introduced this week would establish new standards for cage sizes and prohibit their stacking; require that dogs over 12 weeks have unrestricted access to an outdoor play area; mandate 30 minutes a day of socialization with humans and other dogs; and ensure veterinary screening prior to each breeding attempt, limiting mothers to two litters every 18 months and six over their lifetime.
Breeders would also have to make reasonable attempts to find a new home for mothers who no longer produce puppies. Currently, many of these dogs are euthanized.
Sens. Cory Booker, of New Jersey, and Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, have also signed on; a companion bill, with bipartisan support, has been introduced in the House.
Puppies as commodities
Almost 50 million households in the United States have a dog, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. That number has surely risen during the pandemic, when shelters and breeders alike reported a surge in demand for furry companions amid the need for social distancing.
As with any business, the incentive of those involved is to make money. And one way to make more money from selling dogs is to have more dogs to sell. Accordingly, The Washington Post reported last year, “breeders were investing more heavily than usual in puppies they could raise into breeding age dogs,” with pet stores buying whole litters of puppies that were not yet born.
With minimal standards in place — and, generally, those who breed fewer than five female dogs are exempt from USDA oversight altogether, federal regulators treating what could be a $50,000 business as a hobby — the boom has meant some breeders have increased their capacity to churn out puppies to the detriment of they and their mothers’ quality of life.
“It’s been our experience with consumers that the rise in complaints about breeders and pet stores is very much tied to the fact that there is this increased pressure to generate more and more of these puppies,” Amundson told Insider.
Stacking animals’ cages helps disreputable breeders multiply their supply of product — living, breathing animals — and leads to some of the worst scenes at puppy mills. With wire cages, waste from one dog simply falls on the canine below, with the concentration of urine that results from storing too many puppies in one room producing not just a foul smell but potentially dangerous ammonia fumes.
Some states have gone beyond federal standards to address the worst of the worst. But advocates say the Puppy Protection Act provides an opportunity to improve conditions across the board. “Whether puppies are sold in pet stores or sold over the internet, they’re sentient beings,” Amundson said. “We want to know that these animals have been treated appropriately, from conception through their homecoming.”
But not everyone supports tighter regulation.
The American Kennel Club, which puts on the annual Westminster Kennel Club Dug Show and represents thousands of breeders, has opposed similar measures in the past.
When lawmakers tried to push a “Puppy Protection Act” last year, the group described its provisions — such as ensuring caged animals have enough room to stand on their hind legs without impediment and have enough space outdoors “to extend to full stride” — as “arbitrary requirements” that would prevent its members from advancing “the art and science of responsible dog breeding.”
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