- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 4, 2002


Hardly a whimper was heard when the Senate approved a Puppy Protection Act specifying how often dogs can be bred and how their puppies are to be treated. Happy puppies make better dogs, said backers of the rules.

But the American Kennel Club is lobbying to stop the measure from becoming law, arguing that federal inspectors would be unleashed to poke around private homes across the country. The group wants the rules stripped from the final version of a bill overhauling federal farm programs.

"If the people who are currently closest to dogs breeders, veterinarians and animal behaviorists don't have a consensus as to how is the best way to raise a dog, then how can the federal government have a way?" said AKC spokeswoman Stephanie Robinson.

The Puppy Protection Act, which the Senate passed on a voice vote, is one of several animal welfare provisions that were added to either the Senate or House versions of the farm bill, and they are all in trouble as negotiators write the final legislation. One measure would ban trafficking in bear parts, while others would forbid the interstate shipment of fighting birds and stop the marketing of sick and injured livestock.

The Agriculture Department regulates 3,400 breeders of dogs and other animals and inspects them about once a year to ensure they meet sanitary standards and other requirements.

The Puppy Protection Act would limit how often dogs could be bred and require that puppies be properly socialized by exposure to people. There's also a three-strikes-you're-out provision that would revoke a breeder's license after a third violation.

"We're talking about establishing a safety net to protect dogs, puppies, and the consumers who care about them against the poor treatment practices of the really bad dealers," said Sen. Richard Durbin, Illinois Democrat.

The Agriculture Department currently regulates only breeders whose puppies are sold through pet stores. But the rules could potentially be imposed on many more breeders if animal welfare groups are successful in winning a lawsuit. A federal judge ruled last year that the department should regulate breeders who sell directly to the public as well as to stores. The case is now on appeal. There would be an exemption for people who keep fewer than four female dogs.

On its Web site, AKC urges dog breeders to contact members of Congress about the legislation, warning it could require USDA "to go into hundreds of thousands of individual homes to inspect and regulate" how breeders, and even ordinary pet owners, treat their dogs.

Animal welfare groups say the rules are aimed at "puppy mills" that mass-produce puppies.

"It's real important that animals be properly socialized and be able to fit within the family setting and the community," said Lisa Weisberg, a senior vice president for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

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