Pet lovers across the country are concerned by a major report from “The Washington Post” that identified 86 rescues and shelters which misled Americans about where they got their dogs. Pet lovers who thought their dogs were “rescued” from abuse or mistreatment instead took in dogs that were raised in well-socialized, healthy circumstances, purchased at auction, and then shipped to far-flung rescues and shelters.
Because these transactions are unregulated, nobody knows how these dogs were treated during these journeys.
According to the Post, millions of dollars were spent to buy dogs which were then resold. As someone whose dog was given up by its previous owner to the Washington Humane Society (now the Humane Rescue Alliance), I am concerned about the implications of this story.
As president of a companion animal advocacy group representing pet owners and pet professionals, I urge lawmakers and regulators to ensure this does not happen again.
There are some strong steps that policymakers can quickly take. Federal regulators should require all organizations that operate as pet dealers under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) be licensed as such.
Under the AWA, the purchasing and reselling of dogs fits the definition of “pet dealer” activity and is subject to licensure and inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This applies across the board, regardless of the tax status of the group engaging in the activity. Along with transparency standards, licensing will ensure rescues and shelters that currently act as unregulated pet dealers are overseen in the same way as similar business entities.
Rescues and shelters that purchase from licensed commercial breeders should further be regulated at the state level. Pet lovers should know health histories for each pet they consider bringing into their family — especially when it’s readily available. Strict policies along these lines are strongly supported by stores and advocacy groups like mine, and they should apply to the rescues and shelters exposed by the Post.
State lawmakers and regulators should also take action in other ways. To better protect against the spread of communicable diseases and to track the movement of animals into and across the country, intake and placement reports should be mandatory for all shelters and rescues — as is the case in states such as Connecticut, Maine and New York.
Likewise, requirements already in place for pet stores — such as vaccinations and veterinary checks — should apply to rescues and shelters so that dog, cat, rabbit, and other pet owners know they are getting a healthy pet.
Implementing these new standards would not be difficult. Federal regulations already exist; Congress should urge USDA to investigate and apply these regulations to the rescues and shelters exposed by the Post. Likewise, state-based regulations are in place in several states. We are working with state lawmakers on model legislation to fix gaps in the law.
These easy fixes would improve both consumer protection and animal welfare. All prospective pet owners should know as much of their pet’s background and health history as possible. They should know where their pet came from, and they should be reassured that their dog was treated properly from the day it was born until the day it came home.
My personal and professional thanks go to those who exposed the practices reported by the Post. It is now time for those who care about animal welfare — the professional pet care community, responsible shelters and rescues, and policymakers — to work together to ensure the American people are properly informed about their best friends’ journeys.
Mike Bober is President of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), which advocates for public policy on behalf of animal care, pet ownership, and pet professionals.