Hillary Clinton wants to strengthen federal regulation of puppy mills and other commercial pet breeding operations. It’s on her campaign website in the section on “Protecting animals and wildlife” — right between “Paid family leave” and “Racial justice.”
“The way our society treats animals is a reflection of our humanity,” the section begins. “Hillary is committed to promoting animal welfare and protecting animals from cruelty and abuse.”
The platform points include wildlife protection, improving farm animal welfare — and this, about pets:
Protect pets and domesticated animals by making sure facilities like animal breeders, zoos, and research institutions create plans to protect the animals in their care during disasters; strengthening regulations of “puppy mills” and other harmful commercial breeding facilities; and supporting the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act.
What does that actually translate to, in terms of policy?
The Prevent Animal Cruelty and Torture Act is a bill under which the making and distribution of “crush” videos would be a federal crime. (You can look up crush videos if you are lucky enough not to know what they are, but trust us, don’t eat first.)
Some see the PACT Act as also opening the door to federal prosecution of puppy mill operators, allowing “for the criminal prosecution of puppy mill operators and others who intentionally drown, suffocate, or otherwise heinously abuse their animals,” wrote Humane Society of the United States president Wayne Pacelle in a blog post.
There’s hope that Clinton’s anti-puppy mill efforts might be even a little more far reaching, and address some major systemic problems in the current licensing and regulation of commercial pet breeders.
Here’s what some folks whose careers are spent advocating for puppy mill dogs would like to see change.
Some of it could be done without Congress needing to pass any laws. Others — like requiring pets to be kept in cages that aren’t made of wire, and with access to the outdoors — might require legislative action.
For example, the United States Department of Agriculture — which regulates, oversees, and licenses dog and cat breeders — could require that each commercially bred animal be examined individually by a veterinarian every year, suggests Jeff Pierce, an attorney with the Animal Legal Defense Fund. The current system requires only that a veterinarian do a yearly walk-through of a breeding facility.
Another regular criticism is that breeders who repeatedly violate even the minimal current standards under the Animal Welfare Act — the law under which the USDA operates its oversight and regulation of pet breeders — are still able to maintain their USDA licenses. This should change.
The “USDA rubber-stamps the license renewals of even the worst facilities,” Pierce said. “Instead it could bring enforcement proceedings to revoke those licenses or reinterpret the AWA to require full compliance with the AWA not only at the time of application but also at the time of renewal.”
“Under the Animal Welfare Act as it’s currently written, the USDA could do a lot more,” Pierce added.
Elizabeth Oreck, national manager of puppy mills initiatives for Best Friends Animal Society*, would like to to see the USDA get more resources, and with it the ability to do more.
Currently, the USDA has just a hair over 100 inspectors — who cover not just the thousands of pet breeders, but also aquariums, research labs, zoos, circuses, animal transporters, and every other body covered under the Animal Welfare Act.
“There are far too few inspectors,” said Oreck, understatedly. “Infrequent inspections and poor standards of animal care are the main reasons that puppy mills are able to thrive. Couple that with the opportunity for profit, and you have an industry that is ripe for improvement.”
John Goodwin, who runs the puppy mills campaign for the Humane Society, puts it more bluntly: “The current USDA regulations for puppy mills are abysmal. A dog can spend her entire life in a cage only 6 inches longer than her body, with her paws never even touching a blade of grass.”
The HSUS has asked the federal government for “a complete overhaul of commercial breeder regulations,” Goodwin said. “We hope the next administration will help get this done.”
This is not Clinton’s first time at the anti-puppy mill rodeo. Last year in Iowa, a woman in a coffee shop told Hillary Clinton that if she were to become president, “this is what I would like you to do….I would like to see every single dog and cat mill across the country shut down.”
Clinton, not yet the presumptive Democratic nominee at the time, gave an answer that was dog lovers found promising.
“I share your concern about these mills,” Clinton said, reported the New York Times. “From everything I know about them, they really are terrible places for any animal, and particularly for dogs and cats.”
Then, she added, “We do need to do more.”
Whether improvement will come is, of course, dependent on any number of now-unpredictable factors.
“If Hillary Clinton is elected, she will have the opportunity to implement some truly significant, positive change for animals, but only time will tell if she can pull it off,” said Oreck.
*The usual disclaimer: this journalist’s brother is a lawyer for Best Friends Animal Society. It’s a happy coincidence — probably at least in part thanks to our parents? — that both Greenwood kids love animals such a ridiculous amount that we both work in the animal welfare arena.
A previous version of this story said that ALDF’s Jeff Pierce thought that the USDA could require breeders to give animals access to fresh water and outdoor space, and more comfortable cages, without any change in law. In fact, Pierce believes these requirements would necessitate a change in law, not just agency action. This is not a universally-held position — some other animal welfare groups believe the USDA has the authority to make these changes under current law.
Interested in more content like this? Sniff this related article: Here Are 100 “Breeders” Exposed To Be The Worst Puppy Mills In The United States.
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