- Associated Press - Friday, October 9, 2015

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - State inspectors can now order pet shops and animal shelters to clean water bowls and give animals more space, instead of just recommending it.

Rhode Island is the first New England state to adopt detailed care and housing standards for state-licensed animal care facilities, according to the state Department of Environmental Management.

The regulations, which took effect Thursday, apply to pet shops, kennels, municipal pounds, animal shelters and rescues and animal brokers, which are all state-licensed or -registered.

“I’m pretty excited about this,” said Scott Marshall, the state veterinarian. “To my knowledge, there’s not a state in the country, certainly not in the Northeast, that has comprehensive regulations like we’ve just developed.”

Facilities must have clean food and water dishes and proper ventilation and sanitation, among other standards. There are minimum space requirements for cages.

Marshall said the facilities now know what’s expected and the state can fine violators.

Before, the department could only revoke a license or file criminal charges for substandard care. There wasn’t a way to force change in less-serious situations and there were no regulations to point to that described the standard of care, Marshall said.

“These are enforceable now,” he said. “They’re not suggestions by inspectors, these are mandates by inspectors.”

Ernest Finocchio, president of the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said the regulations have been “sorely needed” for some time.

“There’s no longer a gray area. It’s black and white,” he said.

In one case, a pet shop allowed several days’ worth of feces to accumulate in dog cages, Marshall said. The state didn’t have the authority to mandate improvements or sufficient grounds to revoke the license, he added.

Marshall said he’s currently dealing with another pet shop with sanitation and ventilation issues. These problems are also likely not serious enough to revoke the license and now there’s an effective way to mandate better care, he added.

The Providence Animal Rescue League runs a shelter in Providence. Carmine DiCenso, the executive director, said the shelter already uses best practices in the field of animal care, but he’s hopeful the new regulations will improve the care of pets throughout the state.

“I think some of the requirements for the cages and cleanliness will really make a huge difference,” he said. “It’s a really good step and a good example to set. I knew what would be in there, and we were already there, but I think this could be helpful for a lot of groups.”

The regulations also aim to give consumers more information about where pets are coming from, to address growing concerns from the public about acquiring pets from “puppy mills,” or breeding facilities known for their inhumane conditions.

Cages must have information about where dogs and cats are from, clearly displayed. Before, that information had to be available at the facility but there wasn’t a penalty if it was not, Marshall said.

DEM Director Janet Coit said the regulations show the state’s commitment to the proper care and protection of animals.

“By giving us broader authority to intervene and address issues before they spiral out of control, these new rules will help keep animals safer,” she said in a statement. “And by giving consumers better access to breeder information, they protect prospective buyers as well.”

The regulations took 10 to 12 years to develop, as DEM figured out how to put best practices for animal care into regulatory language and decided which ones could be easily interpreted and enforced, Marshall said. The standards should be easily attained, he added.

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