Bipartisan Agreement: Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Regulate Dog Breeding

In an effort to combat puppy mills, Congress may extend the stiff provisions of the Animal Welfare Act to online sales.

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Sequester happens at 11:59 Friday night, but on Wednesday House and Senate lawmakers found time to re-introduce a bill that would establish regulations for dog breeders who sell animals online.

The Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety Act, known as the "PUPS Act," would require Internet-based breeders who sell more than 50 puppies a year to be licensed and inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Under the proposed law, dogs used for breeding would need to be provided the opportunity to exercise for 60 minutes a day, according to a press release circulated by the Humane Society.

The law would close a loophole in the 1966 Animal Welfare Act that allows breeders currently selling puppies online to avoid the law's provisions that affect brick-and-mortar pet stores.

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"I applaud USDA's work to close loopholes that unscrupulous breeders exploited with Internet sales, and the PUPS Act introduced by Senator Durbin and me will help ensure that puppies are treated humanely and bred in safe and sanitary facilities," said Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter in a statement.

The co-sponsor is the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin of Illinois.

In the House, Republican Reps. Jim Gerlach of Pennsylvania and Bill Young of Florida are sponsoring the bill with California Democratic Reps. Lois Capps and Sam Farr.

The Internet loophole "has resulted in widespread abuse of dogs in breeding facilities," Farr said in a statement. "Leaving dogs crammed into small cages with no exercise or social contact goes against our humanity."

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"This legislation will ensure dogs are protected and individuals who put profit ahead of the fair and humane treatment of dogs are held accountable for their actions," added Gerlach.

Acquiring a dealer license from the USDA requires an inspection and payment of a $30 to $750 annual fee.

"Failure to become licensed or registered is a punishable violation," the USDA advises.

The 2009 edition of the Animal Welfare Act allows the USDA to suspend a licensee's right to conduct business for 21 days if there is reason to suspect a violation. If a violation has been determined, the license can be suspended for an additional length of time or revoked.

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A violation of the act also brings a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per infraction. "Each violation and each day during which a violation continues shall be a separate offense," the law decrees. The 2009 edition raised the civil penalty from $2,5000 to $10,000 per offense.

The current Animal Welfare Act delegates most rule-making to the USDA. A 2012 USDA fact sheet specifies rules governing lighting, feeding, record keeping, sanitation, pest control, and other issues.

Criminal sanctions for violators can bring one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500.

According to a fact sheet available online, USDA says "inspectors always have the option of inspecting [facilities] as often as they feel necessary and as resources allow; they also follow up on legitimate complaints from concerned citizens and organizations."

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