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USDA Takes Action to Regulate Internet Puppy Sales

Government agency’s new legislation makes move in right direction—but there’s much more work to be done

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced that it will require people who sell animals for use as pets over the Internet to comply with minimum standards contained in the Animal Welfare Act. This would require dog owners who breed more than four females and sell puppies online, by mail or on the phone to be subject to the same regulations as commercial puppy mill owners, who are referred to as “wholesale animal breeders.”

The failure to include online sales has been a major loophole in the law as these sellers have gone largely unregulated.

While Animal League America applauds the USDA for taking this very positive step, it does not go nearly far enough in terms of regulating the inhumane facilities known as puppy mills, whether they involve large-scale commercial facilities or unscrupulous backyard breeders. Not only are the existing USDA minimum standards wholly insufficient to provide a humane environment for puppy mill dogs, but enforcement of these laws has also been widely criticized. A government report provided numerous examples of inadequate enforcement:

  • Lack of necessary care of dogs with hair loss over their entire bodies and raw, irritated spots on their skin.
  • Dog was left untreated for at least seven days after being bitten by another dog, resulting in the flesh around the wound rotting away to the bone.
  • Numerous dogs infested with ticks. In one case, the ticks completely covered the dog’s body.
  • An inspector for the Animal Control department of the USDA found five dead dogs and other starving dogs that had resorted to cannibalism in a mill. Despite these conditions, the organization did not immediately confiscate the surviving dogs, and as a result 22 additional dogs died before the breeder’s license was revoked.

“The dogs and puppies whom we rescue from puppy mills arrive at the safety of our no-kill headquarters suffering from severe neglect,” says Dr. Mark Verdino, VP and Chief of Veterinary Staff at Animal League America. “Many of them have a whole host of emotional and medical problems, including mammary tumors, dental decay, heartworm and other serious diseases. Some of the female breeding dogs have been bred for so long that they can’t even stand up anymore.”

When you consider the fact that the mill dogs we rescue are supposedly already protected under previously existing USDA regulations, it makes it abundantly clear that the new USDA regulations will most definitely NOT mean that animals sold online are raised in humane conditions.

“While we are glad that the USDA is making efforts to respond to our concerns about the treatment of these innocent animals, it would be tragic if this new regulation made anyone think that it’s now a viable option for them to buy an animal over the Internet,” says Joanne Yohannan, Senior VP of Operations at Animal League America. “The laws that already exist are not adequate nor are they enforced sufficiently. The only answer: Never buy online or at a pet store. Always, always the only choice is to adopt an animal from a shelter or rescue group.”


  • Don’t buy a puppy or kitten from a pet store, on the Internet, or from a puppy mill or commercial breeder. There are so many homeless animals who are waiting for the chance for happiness and love in a new home. Always adopt through your shelter or rescue group.
  • Urge your local pet stores not to sell puppies and kittens. Ask them instead to promote animal adoptions by working with local animal shelters and rescue groups.
  • Contact your local and state legislators and ask them to sponsor and support legislation to ban the sale of dogs and cats at pet stores. Such legislation has already passed in some municipalities in California, Florida, Nevada, Texas, and in British Columbia and Toronto, Canada.

Help Stop the Cruelty

Sign the Pledge to End Puppy Mill Cruelty

As the world’s largest no-kill animal rescue and adoption organization, North Shore Animal League America is dedicated to leading the movement to a no-kill nation and, ultimately a no-kill world. Since our founding in 1944, we’ve worked tirelessly to save homeless animals, otherwise known as Mutt-i-grees®, from puppy mills, natural disasters and other dire situations. We have found homes for over 1 million of these innocent dogs, cats, puppies and kittens in our nearly seven decades. We’ve also led the way with numerous life-saving initiatives and events, including our month-long global Pet Adoptathon, cross country Tour For Life, SpayUSA program and many other innovative programs.