Over the past year Pine Bluff has begun to recognize the gross failings of our Animal Control department. With a change in leadership, closer relationships with animal welfare organizations and increased public involvement, Animal Control appears to be on a much better course. We are hopeful that a new modern facility, more staff and an improved local culture of animal keeping will materialize in the not too distant future.

Over the past year Pine Bluff has begun to recognize the gross failings of our Animal Control department. With a change in leadership, closer relationships with animal welfare organizations and increased public involvement, Animal Control appears to be on a much better course. We are hopeful that a new modern facility, more staff and an improved local culture of animal keeping will materialize in the not too distant future.

Until those things happen locally, there is a proposed refinement in national regulation that needs our support. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering a proposed rule that would close a dangerous loophole in animal safety regulation. The rule change would revise the definition of what constitutes a retail pet store and related regulations to include more animals — especially those sold online — under the protection of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).

Just as online commerce has changed the way we buy many things, the companion animal breeding industry has cashed in big.

Unfortunately, just as with many other dark recesses of the Internet, animal breeding exists as an unregulated morass of cruelty and bad business.

To be clear, there are many professional, humane, clean and properly managed breeders out there, but as with most things, a few bad actors spoil it for everyone. When they do, thousands of animals suffer horrifically.

According to both the Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals the key problem is many puppy breeding facilities that sell online, on the phone, or through the mail are not licensed or regularly inspected for humane conditions for the puppies or their mothers.

In puppy mills, dogs are caged and oftentimes live in overcrowded and filthy conditions.

They are not given any of the niceties of typical companion animal life, no treats, no toys, no exercise, nor basic grooming.

They are locked in small cages with no purpose but to make babies. In many cases, once a dog turns 4 years old, it is no longer “needed” to produce puppies and is killed.

What’s worse, many consumers have no idea that they are buying animals from these loathsome operations. Often the animals are unseen before delivery and the conditions of keeping are never revealed. This must change.

At present the Animal Welfare Act, which covers operating conditions for commercial breeders, only requires that dog breeders who sell wholesale to pet shops or brokers be licensed and inspected by the USDA. If breeders sell animals directly to the public through the Internet, by phone or mail, they can operate almost completely under the radar, without having to provide minimum standards of care for their dogs. Such direct-sell puppy millers have stepped through a giant loophole that regards these operations as retailers rather than breeders.

Increasingly, these “millers” bypass brick-and-mortar stores all together. To begin with, direct marketing is often more profitable; and as above they are able to avoid substantive regulation and inspection.

If the USDA adopts the proposed rule, this loophole will be closed.

Just to be clear, this regulation is not the brainchild of fringe animal rights groups. As above the Humane Society, the ASPCA as well as hundreds of other state and local level organizations, support these common sense changes.

Only those engaged in inhumane practices will be adversely effected. No one else should notice any difference to business as usual.

Understanding the importance of this change, the USDA has extended the public comment period until August 15th.

To show your support of this action, please contact the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service at ace@aphis.usda.gov or by phone( 301) 851-3751.