Got questions? USDA has the answers. Like they say, “The devil’s in the details”.
The US Department of Agriculture has developed a simple to understand ready reference document that will answer any question you may have regarding the Animal Welfare Act, what it is and how it works.
What follows are snippets from some of the useful information that can be found in this document. For a more in-depth view, take a look yourself:
What is the Animal Welfare Act (AWA)?
The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) (7 U.S.C. §§2131-2159), originally passed by Congress in 1966, sets general standards for humane care and treatment required for certain animals sold at wholesale or through a broker, publicly exhibited, used in biomedical research, or commercially transported.
What is APHIS and what does it do?
APHIS, The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, is the inspection arm of the US Department of Agriculture and through a sub-division (AC-Animal Care) is responsible for oversight of kennels, animal care and husbandry. These inspectors receive extensive training that allows them to recognize problems when visiting kennels, commercial breeding establishments and zoos. In addition to inspectors, the Animal Care division also employs experts on the care and handling of dogs and cats in kennels, birds, elephants, marine mammals, large exotic cats, and nonhuman primates.
Changes have occurred within the Animal Welfare Act and the United States Department of Agriculture’s inspection service. What brought them about?
Originally, back in the day, commercial breeders sold their pets wholesale to retail pet outlet stores. The potential customer wishing to purchase a particular breed was able to go to a store and see the puppy prior to purchase, examine it, play with it and had some recourse back through the store, should the puppy develop health issues or become ill within a certain period of time after purchase.
When the internet came on the scene, some less than stellar breeders took advantage of it in a big way, and began marketing their pets for sale over the internet, sight unseen. Since customers were unable to actually see the animals before their purchase, this resulted in problems when customers started receiving animals who were sick and unhealthy. These less than stellar breeders were sliding under the radar through use of the internet and were selling puppies of questionable health, resulting in huge cost to unsuspecting buyers.
In 2010, the Office of the Inspector General conducted an audit which found that through internet sales, more than 80 percent of sampled large breeders avoided licensing under the Animal Welfare Act because they claimed Retail Pet Sales status, but in fact sold pets on the internet sight unseen.
The Office of the Inspector General found that because there was no monitoring or inspection to verify animals’ overall health and treatment and conditions in which they were raised, “mail-order” buyers were receiving unhealthy pets, especially dogs. The Office of the Inspector General recommended that such operations should not enjoy Retail Pet Sales status if there was no consumer oversight and should be subject to USDA inspections. This resulted in the changes in oversight that we are seeing today.
Importing dogs for resale or adoption
USDA amended the Animal Welfare Act regulations in 2014 to create oversight of dogs imported into the United States for resale or adoption, veterinary treatment or research. You cannot import any dog under 6 months of age for resale or adoption. All must have current rabies and other vaccinations before import and must not show signs of an infectious disease or physical abnormality that would endanger the dog, other animals or public health. The USDA does not require a permit to import a dog for personal use, including breeding. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) prohibits the importation of dogs into the United States without valid rabies inoculation given after three months old and more than 30 days prior to entry unless they are from a rabies free country.
USDA does require breeders to have a license if they maintain five or more breeding females (dogs, cats, or wild/exotic pocket pets), sell the offspring of these animals as pets, and ship those pets sight-unseen. In addition, anyone else selling regulated animals at wholesale must have a license, if not otherwise exempt. Breeders with four or fewer breeding females may continue to ship animals born and raised on their premises “sight-unseen” without a license if they sell only the offspring of those animals. If they sell any animals not born and raised on their premises, the 4 or fewer exemption does not apply
If you breed and sell dogs as show dogs, you may need a license. If you intend for the animals that the buyer is showing to be breeding animals once they have achieved a certain goal in the show ring, you may be exempt from licensing. A breeder that sells dogs at retail for breeding purposes is exempt from regulation under the rule, which applies to dogs sold as pets. However, a breeder who has five or more breeding females and regularly sells some dogs (born and raised on their premises) as breeding animals and others as pets and engages in sight-unseen transactions of the pets will need to obtain a USDA license.
To better understand current rules and regulations, visit the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) website. There, you will find a lot of good information and the site is relatively easy to navigate.