Online Pet Retailers Must Now Be Licensed

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has issued a new regulation revising the definition of “retail pet store” under the Animal Welfare Act.
     The previous definition dates back to 1966 when Congress passed the Animal Welfare Act. Under that definition, retail pet stores were not required to be licensed and inspected.
     Since that time, advances in technology have allowed people to sell animals “sight unseen” over the Internet, claim retail pet store status and exempt themselves from regulatory oversight. Internet “sight unseen” sales have resulted in an increase in complaints about sick or injured animals, according to the action.
     The new regulation brings sight-unseen transactions under federal oversight to protect animals, which includes providing adequate veterinary care, and to prevent the spread of disease.
     Animals can carry “zoonotic” diseases, which are contagious diseases that can be transmitted between animals and humans, according to the APHIS. The agency identifies rabies as its main concern, according to the action.
     The new regulation changes the definition of retail pet store to mean “a place of business or residence (not necessarily that of the seller’s) at which the seller, buyer, and the animal available for sale are physically present so that every buyer may personally observe the animal available for sale prior to purchasing and/or taking custody of that animal after purchase, and where only certain animals are sold or offered for sale, at retail, for use as pets,” the APHIS states in its action.
     The new regulation also restores and amends the exemption for dog and cat breeders, likewise bringing them under federal regulatory control.
     The regulation “fulfills a commitment APHIS made in response to an Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit on dog breeders. The 2010 audit found that more than 80 percent of sampled breeders were not being monitored or inspected to ensure their animals’ overall health and humane treatment, resulting in some buyers receiving unhealthy pets-especially dogs. Instead, these breeders were selling pets over the Internet and claiming ‘retail pet store’ status, exempting themselves from oversight by both consumers and APHIS,” the agency noted in a press release.
     The agency estimates the number of dog breeders selling animals sight unseen to be between 8,400 and 15,000. However, the regulation only affects those selling dogs as pets, and who have more than four breeding females on their property, which brings the number of breeders affected down to between 2,600 and 4,640.
     “Newly regulated breeders will be subject to licensing, animal identification, and recordkeeping requirements. In addition, affected entities will be subject to standards for facilities and operations, animal health and husbandry, and transportation,” according to the action.
     The APHIS noted the cost for licensing is based on 50 percent of gross sales during the preceding fiscal year.
     “As an example, if 50 percent of gross sales are more than $500, but not more than $2,000, the annual cost of a license is $70. [APHIS estimates] that costs for coming into compliance for currently non-compliant breeders could range from $2.9 million to $12.1 million in the first year, when both one-time structural changes will occur and annual operational changes will start,” the agency said in its action.
     The agency also noted that the majority of dog breeders affected by the new regulation are likely to be “small entities.”
     The rule is effective Nov. 18.

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