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Internet Pet Sellers: Humane Groups Cave In

by LEE HALL

The newest victory for the Humane Society of the United States—isn’t.

Here’s an excerpt from an e-mail distributed this month from HSUS president & CEO Wayne Pacelle,  announcing it.

Dear Friend,

I have a huge victory to share with you! After years of pressure from The HSUS, and hundreds of thousands of emails and support from advocates like you, online puppy mills will finally be subject to federal inspections and oversight. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced plans today to ensure that large-scale breeding facilities that sell puppies over the Internet, by phone, or by mail are licensed and inspected regularly for basic humane care standards. This rule will also apply to large commercial breeders of other warm-blooded pets, such as kittens and small mammals.

We are so grateful for the actions of our advocates. When we stand together, we can make a tremendous difference for animals on a national level. 

This is what the codification of online mass pet retailing looks like. Pacelle called it “a long-held aspiration for The HSUS, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, and the Doris Day Animal League”–groups that prompted the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s inspector general to review enforcement of the rules governing dog breeding and uncover “this glaring gap in the law that allowed Internet sellers to evade any federal oversight whatever.”

Pacelle thanked the Obama administration, the “strong bipartisan support in Congress for closing the ‘Internet loophole’ in the Animal Welfare Act regulations,” and the USDA, which will assign people to license (yes) and inspect the animal vendors.

The very same USDA, as Sunil Sharma observes, “whose ‘inspectors’ regularly visit factory farms and report nothing wrong.”

Local groups are constantly subject to the hydraulic pull of such perverse national campaigns. Last July, the Toledo Area Humane Society joined in, endorsing the proposed redefinition of “retail pet store” so that high-volume dog dealers and online puppy sellers are licensed under the Animal Welfare Act. Pacelle gathered support for the codification project with one of the most tired old chants: “Puppy mills aren’t going away overnight…”Of course they aren’t, if the world’s most influential humane-treatment group makes a campaign out of codifying them.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals weighed in as well—“optimistic the rule change will strike a balance by excluding hobby breeders and targeting inhumane breeding facilities.”  In reality, the Animal Welfare Act has long shielded animal dealers, exhibitors, and experimenters by barring the public from charging them with cruelty under state laws or otherwise challenging them.

A new regulation can spawn countless investigation and policing needs. And so it goes: the exploitation of animals, continually hardened into the system of administrative law and custom, accompanied by still more jobs in the humane-treatment sector–an industry upon an industry; administration upon administration.

Instead of going along with this and telling the federal government we “support stronger oversight of Internet puppy mills” we should be appalled that they haven’t chased online pet vendors out of our sight, and that animal advocates haven’t demanded that.

Lee Hall is a candidate for Vermont Law School’s LL.M. in environmental law (2014). Previously, Lee taught animal law and immigration law, and worked for more than a decade in environmental and animal advocacy. Follow Lee on Twitter:  @Animal_Law

Lee Hall, J.D., LL.M., is a hard-working adjunct professor with teaching experience at both private and public universities, who also works hard at a retail job for basic sustenance and health insurance.

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