By: Patti Strand  Date: 01/15/2012 Category: | Animal Rights vs Animal Welfare |

A Washington DC federal court ordered the US Department of Agriculture to begin licensing all dog and cat breeders in the US in a decision handed down in a lawsuit filed by the Doris Day Animal League.

The July ruling granted a victory to DDAL in its long campaign to force USDA to inspect home breeders who are currently exempted under a definition of retail sales that allows direct sale of pets to the public. USDA disputes the court’s interpretation of the law and plans to appeal the decision.


The law in question is the federal Animal Welfare Act1 passed in 1966 and frequently amended since. One thing has remained constant, however: USDA, the agency charged with enforcement of the act, has steadfastly maintained that Congress intended the law to regulate commercial kennels selling puppies and kittens to retail outlets and that home breeders should be exempt.

Written at a time when conditions at commercial kennels and the sale of dogs to research facilities captured national attention, the AWA mandated federal licensing for all dealers who sell dogs and cats in interstate or foreign commerce. Believing that the law applied to wholesale trade in puppies and kittens, the agency drafted a definition of dealer that excluded retail outlets.2 Breeders who raise dogs and cats in their own homes are not mentioned in the AWA definition of retail pet store and are not specifically exempted otherwise. However, because the law was written to provide oversight for commercial kennels that breed out of public view and ship puppies to retail stores for resale, USDA exempted private breeders who sell directly to the public from homes where conditions can be checked by buyers before the purchase.

Several years ago, DDAL petitioned the USDA to change the regulations under which the agency enforces the law to include all pet breeders. USDA originally declined the petition but was ordered by the court to begin the comment process to determine whether changes were appropriate. Two comment periods and tens of thousands of opinions later, the agency decided not to change the regulation exempting home breeders from licensing. DDAL went to court and the result was a summary judgment declaring that the law is self-explanatory in its intention to regulate all breeders.

The American Kennel Club filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of USDA, but because the judge determined that the law is clear in its intentions, briefs and arguments were not considered. However, if the ruling by judge US District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly is allowed to stand, AKC estimates that, based on its registration data, nearly 300,000 breeders could be required to be licensed, a situation that would overwhelm USDA and undermine the nature of the purebred dog sport by making it a federally-regulated activity.

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