A Palm Beach County ordinance, which went into effect in 2016, requires pet shops to make information about where the puppies come from visible to consumers. It also requires that pet stores buy only from breeders without severe or multiple (three or more) recent violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act. Under the USDA regulations, breeders must provide a clean cage, food and water, but they can keep a dog in a wire cage for its entire life, as long as there is six inches above the dog’s head, and in front of his/her nose.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture conducts inspections of federally licensed pet breeding facilities and, until last month, published their inspection reports online. However, on February 3, shortly after the new administration took office, USDA removed all the puppy mill inspection records from its website, rendering the most critical part of the Palm Beach County ordinance essentially unenforceable.
John Goodwin, senior director of the puppy mills campaign for the HSUS, said: “Our findings show that sourcing laws are extremely limited in their ability to protect consumers from the unknowing purchase of dogs from puppy mills. Only a complete ban on selling puppies in pet stores will ensure that puppy mill dogs are not being sold there and that customers don’t end up with a potentially sick or mistreated puppy.”
After verifying the investigator’s footage and notes, the HSUS reported its findings to law enforcement agencies last week. The information presented to law enforcement officials included copies of inspection reports the HSUS had saved shortly before the USDA removed all such records from its website.
During the last week of January 2017, the HSUS sent an investigator to visit every pet store in Palm Beach County that sells puppies. Potential violations of the law include:
- A pet store that purchased puppies from a USDA-licensed breeder, Renea Culler, who had been cited for a 2016 Direct USDA violation for a dog with an injured eye. (Heavenly Puppies, Boca Raton)
- Two pet stores that purchased from breeders with three indirect violations each (Waggs to Riches in Boca Raton and Wet Kisses in Lake Worth)
- Two pet stores refused to give any information at all to potential buyers about the sources of their puppies and/or their health records, in apparent violation of county law.
- A pet store in Delray Beach, which has its own town ordinance prohibiting the sale of commercially-raised puppies in pet stores altogether, was found to be offering puppies for sale in violation of its local ordinance. (Waggs to Riches of Delray Beach)
- Multiple stores appeared to violate rules about posting consumer notices with information about their puppies.
In addition to the ordinance violations, photos taken previously by HSUS investigators of some of the breeding operations that provided puppies to the Palm Beach stores revealed puppy mill-like conditions. The photos show dozens of dogs outside in rows of wire cages – conditions that are not illegal under the USDA’s standards but are considered inhumane by many animal welfare groups.
Image via HumaneSociety.org