USDA revises definition of retail pet store to ensure health and treatment of pets but exempts operations with farm animals.
THE U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced Sept. 10 that it has revised the definition of "retail pet store" under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to restore a check and balance that helps ensure the health and humane treatment of pet animals sold "sight unseen."
According to APHIS, the previous definition of retail pet store was developed more than 40 years ago, before the internet provided an alternative method of selling pets to the public. Some breeders were selling pet animals without providing the buyer with an opportunity to observe the animal prior to purchase, as was intended by the regulation.
APHIS said it is revising the definition in its regulations to bring animals involved in these transactions under AWA so they can be monitored for health and humane treatment.
"Requiring these breeders to adhere to the Animal Welfare Act standards is important because we know that if the federal standards are being met, the animals are getting humane care and treatment," Ed Avalos, USDA undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, said. "By revising the definition of retail pet store to better suit today's marketplace, we will now improve the welfare of more pet animals sold sight unseen."
APHIS took the action in response to an Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit of dog breeders. With this regulatory change, APHIS said it has acted on an OIG recommendation and restored the definition of retail pet store to its original intent: a place of business or residence at which the seller, buyer and the animal available for sale are physically present so that the buyer may personally observe the animal and help ensure its health prior to purchasing or taking custody of it.
Traditional "brick and mortar" pet stores will continue to be exempt from federal licensing and inspection requirements under AWA, APHIS said. However, internet-based businesses and other businesses that sell animals sight unseen must now be licensed and inspected by APHIS to ensure that the pets they sell to the public receive at least minimum standards of care.
The agency emphasized that many animal rescue groups, pounds, shelters and humane societies will continue to be exempt from AWA regulations.
APHIS said the following are also exempt:
* Those who breed and sell working dogs;
* Those who sell rabbits for food, fiber (including fur) or the preservation of bloodlines;
* Children who raise rabbits as part of a 4-H project;
* Operations that raise, buy and sell farm animals for food or fiber (including fur), and
* Businesses that deal only with fish, reptiles and other cold-blooded animals.
APHIS said another change in regulations is that the number of breeding females (dogs, cats or small exotic/wild pocket pets) people may maintain before they are required to be licensed under AWA will increase from three to four.