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APHIS: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Real life makes for great movies.

Just in the last 5 years, moviegoers have been enthralled with Social Network, Secretariat, Black Hawk Down, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, all films based on real events. It’s tempting to conjecture that if the travails of the dog fancy over the last twenty years were ever made into a film adaptation, surely the movie would fall within the genre of a “spaghetti western.” Why? Because the line between heroes and villains is blurred, morality is flexible, and the remaking of an American tradition is happening before our eyes.

SpaghettiCowboy

With “spaghetti westerns,” Italian filmmakers repackaged the classic American western and influenced the way an entire generation looked at traditional stereotypes. In much in the same way, the animal rights movement challenged the public’s perception of all dog breeders by painting ethical ones with the same broad brush used to color substandard breeders. To hear radical groups say it these days, all breeders (good, bad or ugly) are responsible for pet overpopulation, the deaths of millions of shelter dogs, poorly bred dogs living in agony, and climate change.

SadDogFor years, images of caged and sad-eyed shelter dogs have beamed nightly into our bedrooms through our television sets, and the public responded with donations that have made at least one humane society very rich, indeed.

Entrusted to oversee the welfare of animals in the United States, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the Department of Agriculture received complaints from a public concerned about the humane treatment of pets bred in commercial facilities and sold in pet shops, especially those sold over the Internet, a venue never imagined when the Animal Welfare Act was written over forty years ago.

To handle these complaints and be compliant with the Animal Welfare Act’s original intent, APHIS responded in May 2012 with a proposed rule to narrow the definition of a “retail pet store,” and license and regulate internet-based breeders and sellers who acted as dealers. The agency invited comments for 90 days during which time it received 75,584 individual comments, 134,420 signed form letters, and 213,000 signatures on petitions submitted by groups supporting or opposing the proposed rule.

Ethical breeders, already battle weary from poorly written legislation affecting them, cringed at yet another regulation intended to target substandard breeders, but one that would probably impact them, as well. Nevertheless, they wrote letters, participated in conference calls, and were among the individuals who provided 70,000 signatures to a petition submitted by the AKC expressing concern over the future of responsibly bred dogs and small/hobby breeders.

And then they nervously waited.

When the final rule was announced during a USDA-hosted conference call on September 10th, the fancy felt its greatest fears realized. Despite a Herculean effort to inform USDA about the unintended consequences of a regulation aimed at commercial breeders, the final rule was virtually unchanged from the original language.

Hobby breeders were incredulous. How could this happen to them? They were law abiding. They spent countless hours reviewing genotypes and phenotypes before selecting a suitable breeding pair. They sacrificed to run health tests, slept in their dogs’ whelping boxes, carefully screened potential homes, and cried their eyes out when saying goodbye to a puppy they had raised.
As verbiage of the final document “sank in,” hobby breeders read it and found themselves mostly confused. How could they meet standards worded for breeders with different realities?

To the detriment of the hobby breeder, a last minute document posted by the USDA has gone largely unnoticed, and consequently, it’s done little to dispel the depression and outrage felt by the dog community. This document must be regarded by dog fanciers before they’re ready to “chuck it all in.”

In the finest tradition of a particularly popular “Spaghetti Western,” let’s review “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” of this new regulation, and the document which followed it, the Retail Pet Store docket.

The Good:
NAIA legislative director, Julian Prager, JD, reviewed the Retail Pet Store docket, a 91 page document intended to help clarify the USDA’s position of the new rule, and interprets it as evidence that hobby and residential breeders are exempt from its worst fears of regulation.

Of particular interest to hobby breeders is that while all dealers must be licensed by APHIS, not every breeder is a dealer. Key in determining whether one is a “dealer” or a hobby breeder is the purpose of the sale of a dog or a puppy.

  • If a breeding is done to maintain bloodlines or produce working dogs, a license is not required;
  • Shipping semen, a bitch, or an animal for breeding purposes does not require licensing.
  • Any number of breeding females may be owned as long as the sale of a dog or puppy takes place face-to-face, and the buyer, seller and dog are in the same place at the same time at the time of the sale or delivery of the dog, and the location of the transaction can be anywhere;
  •  The person who takes possession of the dog at the time of sale or delivery is the buyer even if they’re not the ultimate owner. This is important to know if the ultimate owner is sick, elderly or disabled and needs someone to act on their behalf;
  • The rule won’t limit the number of dogs one can own/co-own, breed or sell. It’s designed to regulate under the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) those who sell dogs as pets over the Internet or “sight-unseen.” Remember, this only applies to the dogs on one’s premises.

The reasoning for this language is one responsible dog breeders can get behind: When the Office of Inspector General audit found that over 80 percent of sampled breeders weren’t licensed under the Animal Welfare Act because they sold pets over the Internet (thereby claiming “retail pet store” status), the Department of Agriculture realized that this involved a lot of dogs. Tightening up regulations on Internet sales impacts the kind of breeders who hurt the ethical ones. Revising the definition of “retail pet store” brings dogs purchased through “sight unseen” transactions under the protection of regulation so that they receive basic standards of care. The buyer also benefits by personally seeing a dog before purchasing it and ensuring that it is healthy.

The Bad:
The ambiguity of the regulation on certain issues requires greater clarification:

  • The rule seems to indicate that if a dog is sold as a breeding prospect, to maintain bloodlines, or as a working dog (hunting, herding, or security, for example) a breeder is exempt from requiring licensure. If a dog is sold as a pet, however, a breeder isn’t exempt. It’s significantly important, therefore, that a breeder is able to demonstrate their purpose in selling a puppy, but how is this done, and what kind of “evidence” will be indicative of compliance?
  • Of concern is that this regulation might encourage a bit of  “creative” truth telling. If a breeder determines that a puppy isn’t a breeding prospect, they have the option of putting a limited registration on the dog to preserve the gene pool – but at the same time, they’ve now invited APHIS to investigate their sale because they’ve designated the puppy as “pet quality” and the new regulation stipulates that only “dealers” can market or sell or a puppy sold “as a pet;”
  • Further explanation is needed on the issue of puppies received in lieu of a stud fee or for the receipt of a puppy back from the sale of a female on a breeder’s terms. Although these don’t qualify for the exemption based on owning four or fewer breeding females and selling puppies born and raised on a breeder’s premises, APHIS might find their sale exempt under other provisions of the AWA regulations;
  • What about the sale of dogs whelped or born by C-section at a veterinary practice? As long as the dogs are sold in face-to-face transactions, this is, one supposes, a moot point – but who decides?
  • Leaving to an APHIS inspector the determination of what a “breeding female” is is entirely too subjective. Ideal breeding ages vary from breed to breed, and former show dogs are sometimes left intact by breeders who feel it’s the best interest of their dog to avoid surgery;
  • Breeders are now hamstrung from selling puppies to “repeat customers” living out-of-state, buyers with whom they’ve had a relationship because they previously owned a dog bred by the breeder and demonstrated themselves as ideal homes; Conversely, if an out-of-state buyer wishes to purchase a puppy from a breeder they’ve come to trust, their puppy will cost a lot more when additional travel and hotel expenses are factored in;
  • If one must open their home to an APHIS inspection, the regulation requires that the breeder be at home five days a week during business hours. This is problematic for the person who works or attends dog shows.

 

SpyFace
The Ugly:

  • The new rules expand the influence of USDA/APHIS at a time when the public is reeling from revelations of privacy leeks and admissions of government scrutiny of the private sector;
  • APHIS estimates that between 2,600 and 4,640 dog breeders will be affected by the new rule. It’s likely that more than a few will have to become licensed breeders in order to comply with the new regulation which is sure to generate additional income for APHIS. APHIS has suggested that even at the highest end of the cost of a license (an estimated $760 for a breeder with gross revenues in excess of $200,000), they point out that it’s still less than the price of many purebred dogs. Using their own figures and logic, however, that means that if one were to multiply the “high end” of the range of affected breeders (4,640) by $760, this is an additional income of $3,526,400.00 for the Department of Agriculture, hardly chump change even for a government agency. In that light, a cynical person might be tempted to think of another “Spaghetti Western:” A Fistful of Dollars;
  • During the USDA conference call, the answer to many questions posed was that APHIS officials would “determine [them] on a case-by-case basis.” Given human nature, this kind of ambiguity invites charges of potential shenanigans – preferential treatment, cronyism, maybe even potential pay-offs; It is an ugly thing to think, but there will be some who will think it;
  • APHIS has indicated that it will use various methods to access publicly available information to identify breeders they determine may need an AWA commercial breeding license. These methods include “reviewing” the marketing and promotional materials of breeders and Internet retailers. If breeders become fearful of non-compliance, if not government intrusion in their lives, what financial impact will this have on the sites of national breed clubs, the AKC or even pet-finder sites?
  • Given that there are former animal rights activists now in the employ of the USDA, law-abiding, ethical breeders feel vulnerable to the anti-breeder bias of people in high places, and with vague rules and a lack of specific guidelines in certain situation, there is real concern about discrimination;

As Don Miguel Rojo said in A Fistful of Dollars, “A man’s life in these parts often depends on a mere scrap of information.” There are dozens of nuances in this regulation that need to be clarified, and the NAIA will be reviewing them more in depth in the coming weeks.

~ Susi Szeremy, 10/11/13


A writer and editor by profession, Susi is also the creator of KnobNots pet safety signs, as well as the dog blog, DogKnobit. An owner/breeder/handler of Pulik since 1978, she is active in the dog fancy where she is a co-chair of Judges Education for the Puli Club of America.

Dec 14, 2012 - Animal Policy    11 Comments

You Shoot My Dog, I’ll Sue Your City

Earlier this month, dog lovers everywhere were outraged after a police officer shot Colonel, a non-threatening, 29-pound, seven-month-old puppy. Thankfully, Colonel received medical attention and survived his injuries (though it certainly couldn’t have been fun having shrapnel removed from his belly). After the incident, Al and Barbara Phillips, Colonel’s owners, filed a lawsuit against Chicago and the shooter, which is now going to federal court.

According to neighbors (and the lawsuit), aside from not being much of a physical threat, Colonel was wagging and behaving in a completely non-threatening manner. This really makes you wonder what kind of experience and/or training police officers have when it comes to differentiating between friendly and vicious dogs — because it’s not like this is the first time a restrained or non-threatening dog has been shot by police. After international furor over a pointlessly tragic dog shooting in Austin, Texas, steps have been taken to prevent this kind of tragedy from occurring in the future… how long (and how many lawsuits) before Chicago does the same?

The Phillips’ are seeking at least $350k in damages:

The seven-count suit claims excessive force, illegal seizure, violations of their right to due process and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Phillips also claim police retaliated against them for exercising their right to free speech, in speaking to the news crew.

And in case you were wondering, this is the dog that so frightened the police officer:

Humane Society Legislative Fund Attack Ad Rejected by Television Stations

So the Humane Society Legislative Fund (HSLF) launches an absolutely nuclear political attack ad that stops just short of claiming U.S. Rep. Steve King’s favorite hobby is dragging children to dog fights (before you ask, he is on record opposing all forms of animal fighting and he supports state laws that criminalize it), and now they are shocked — just shocked — that television stations in Iowa are refusing to air it.

Dane Waters, political director of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, said in an interview on Monday he disagreed with the station managers. “If they have a problem at all I believe it is more political than anything else,” Waters said.

Ah, hiding behind the old “it’s just politics” excuse. Of course the networks’ refusals have nothing to do with the ad’s graphic sensationalism or because its message has been judged to be “patently false.” Just as the HSLF ad has nothing to do with the fact that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) considers King to be a major thorn in their side, right (because it’s just a coincidence that Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of HSUS spent much of last July and August attacking the representative…)?

Sure, if you say so.

Reasonable people can have disagreements over policies and their implementation; it can be messy, but it is better than the alternative, and a vital component of living in a free society. Unreasonable people view those with dissenting opinions as fools or devils to be dismissed, defamed, even destroyed if necessary — ideological totalitarians, to put it kindly. Judging by the HSLF’s methods of attack and reaction to being called out  — unfettered by facts, reason, or decency — it is fair to say they have cast their lot with the unreasonables.

The only good things about this latest campaign is that it serves as a stark example of the vicious, discourse-killing dishonesty the humane industry employs upon those who stand up to them, and of why so many people are afraid to speak out, even when it is clear the facts are not adding up.

According to King’s website, all eight networks have now pulled the ad. Good for them.

 

May 18, 2012 - Animal Policy, Animal Rights    5 Comments

Indiana Supreme Court Says State Overreached in Dog Seizure

Earlier today, the Indiana Supreme Court said in a 5-0 ruling that the state (with the assistance of HSUS) overreached in seizing and placing 240 dogs over unpaid taxes.

For some background:

On June 2, 2009, Virginia and Kristin Garwood each were ordered to pay $142,367.94 in allegedly unpaid taxes from the sale of puppies at their Mauckport, Ind., farm.

When the Garwoods were unable to pay, Indiana State Police and Humane Society volunteers seized 240 dogs from the farm, including the Garwoods’ pets. All the dogs were sold to the Humane Society the next day for $300.

That last sentence, the little thing about them selling the dogs for only $300 is revealing; the raid obviously wasn’t just about collecting taxes…

Stay tuned — this is an incredibly important ruling, and we’ll be able to release a lot more information on this story next week.

May 14, 2012 - Animal Policy    4 Comments

A Bipartisan Fight Against Breedism

The good news? Maryland’s atrocious court decision declaring pit bull and pit mixes “inherently dangerous” is already being challenged legislatively, and by a very unexpected team:

A court’s apparent sense of “breedism” has led to an extraordinarily rare legislative pairing.

As the fallout continues over a Maryland Court of Appeals ruling that calls pit bulls inherently dangerous, two state delegates on polar opposite sides of the political spectrum are co-sponsoring legislation that would overturn the court’s ruling.

This quick turnaround is  incredibly important; since last month’s decision, landlords are already telling their pit bull-owning tenants they can’t keep their dogs. This means the loss of beloved family pets, shelters and rescues being overrun with dogs, as well as a financial hit for a state that is already facing economic struggles. When it comes to this legislation, time is of the essence.

And this is where the bad news comes in:

It appears unlikely that the legislation will receive a serious look from the House of Delegates, however. House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, is not expected to put on the agenda anything more than the state’s fiscal 2013 budget.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t at least try. “Unlikely” and “unexpected” doesn’t mean “impossible,” and stranger things have happened. And if enough animal lovers speak up, legislators cannot help but hear.

Our sister group, the NAIA Trust, has released an alert on this issue. If you are a Maryland resident and a dog lover, here’s a chance to help make a difference. While the intent is simple and clear, the bill itself has not yet been officially released. However, a copy has been made available through scribd.com.

If you are able to make it, there is also a peaceful rally scheduled for tomorrow outside the capital in Annapolis from 2:30 to 4:30pm.

Help me grow up in a breed blind world!

 

May 9, 2012 - Animal Policy    1 Comment

United Airlines Lifts Breed Ban: Chipping Away at Discrimination

In a victory for common sense, United Airlines has lifted its ban on transporting nine breeds of dogs. Previously, the following breeds and mixes were banned from flying the friendly skies:

 Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Presa Canario, Perro de Presa Canario, Dogo Argentino, Cane Corso, Fila Brasileiro, Tosa (or Tosa Ken) and Ca de Bou.

Pet loving customers spoke out — loudly — and a company listened. Just think how this could apply elsewhere! What a great accomplishment for pet owners and their dogs, and also in the larger effort of chipping away at breed discrimination. Way to go!

Bongo Jumps for Joy
“Looks like I don’t have to learn to fly, after all!”

 

Analyst Claims HSUS Gets Nothing From Egg Agreement. Say What?

In an analysis of the United Egg Producers (UEP)/Humane Society of the United State (HSUS) egg agreement, animal rights activist Bradley Miller claims UEP now has the upper hand:

“HSUS and UEP talk about a win-win. But UEP wins whether the federal bill passes or not,” Miller said. “UEP is far ahead of the game compared to where they started.”

Co-opting HSUS to “violate its own principles” and endorse larger cages that UEP has long sought was a shrewd move, in Miller’s view.

UEP has moved HSUS off its prior position opposing cages and if the bill fails, HSUS will look contradictory at best going back to attacking the larger cages it had supported, Miller said.

[...]

HSUS will be left with nothing, Miller said, other than a massive branding or publicity bonanza that put them in the limelight, made them look reasonable and helped HSUS President Wayne Pacelle market his book.

Sorry good sir, but we question your analysis.

Aside from the head-scratcher about HSUS having principles, there are several interesting points in this analysis. Whether or not you agree with UEP working with HSUS or vice-versa, it is undeniable that UEP is, at least for the time being, ahead of where they were a few years ago, when their constant companion was the threat of death by ballot measure.

They also have bought enough time to implement their new enriched cage facilities, which allow for many of the best features of traditional barren cages and cage-free living: clean, effective facilities that raise animal welfare standards and are very hard for activists to stir outrage and raise funds off of.

But will HSUS really be left with nothing in the end? It’s not like their position has changed; they still campaign daily for cage-free (and eventually animal free) agriculture — they’re just putting a stronger focus on other forms of animal production now. And when HSUS is criticized as an “animal rights organization in animal welfare clothing,” their supporters can now use the UEP/HSUS ceasefire as cover, as proof of HSUS’ “moderate” positions.

And what of the work that went into developing the new enriched colony housing? Should it matter that years of toil and millions of dollars went into developing and implementing these facilities while HSUS did nothing but attack them?  HSUS contributed nothing,  but now they get get to raise their credibility in the eyes of the public by playing policy-maker, and take credit for industry changes they actively fought against for years!* Despicable, but you have to admit there is a certain genius to it.

No Bradley, I’m afraid this agreement leaves HSUS with quite a lot. UEP may have found a way to survive, but HSUS found a way to make themselves stronger.


* By the way, HSUS still hasn’t entirely scrubbed its website of pages that disparage enriched cages.

Apr 26, 2012 - Animal Policy    2 Comments

Cats on leashes – WWTD?

Tonight,* the citizens of Concord, Massachusetts vote on whether or not troublemaking cats — cats who relieve themselves, eat birds, etc. while off-property — must be confined indoors or allowed outside only on-leash. It’s pretty mild as far as animal laws go: basically, if a neighbor doesn’t mind an owner’s cat on his or her property, no problem — but if they do create a nuisance and a neighbor complains and no solution is found, the owner would be required to keep them indoors or walk them on a leash outside.

Pretty simple, really. The idea of a cat on a leash raises eyebrows for a lot of people, but a harness or leash on a cat isn’t really that uncommon. And even if the idea seems silly to you, a measure that seeks to address complaints without placing the burden on responsible pet owners most certainly is not.

I'm. Going. To. Kill. You.

Plus, and here’s the best part: supporters and detractors alike are convinced Thoreau would be on their side of the argument…

“I really feel confident that Thoreau would not want the cats on a leash,’’ [Barbara Lynn-Davis] said. “It seems to inhibit their freedom to roam and discover. She’s asking the cats to be curtailed to maintain this artificial environment that she created to give her pleasure, but the birds don’t need that.’’

But Lodynsky, who has owned felines in the past, said that it’s folly to consider a cat part of the natural world.

“They were brought here and domesticated; they aren’t part of the natural food chain,’’ she said. “Boldly, I would say Thoreau would support me because he respected natural species and biodiversity. When people say, ‘Leave nature alone,’ I say nature hasn’t been left alone since we moved here. My stand is that I’m trying to help these birds survive us.’’

Forget, for a moment, the debate over ever-more intrusive animal regulations, the debate over  indoor vs. outdoor cats, and ask yourself: what would Thoreau do?


* The vote was scheduled for Wednesday night, but there was not enough time to vote on the cat measure.

Mar 1, 2012 - Animal Policy    3 Comments

Cooler Heads Prevailing in Wausau?

James and Melissa Lecker moved to Wausau, Wisconsin with their four dogs, unaware of the fact that they had two more pets than the city allowed. In late January, the young family learned that to come into compliance, they faced a stark choice: give up two of their dogs — family members, really — or pay a $114 daily fine.

An agonizing choice for any pet owner, it led to weeks of stress and sleepless nights for Melissa Lecker, and an eventual decision to move (at a loss of $15,000) if the situation continued. Money wasn’t the primary issue, it was the principle at stake, keeping her family together:

“Material things — money and a house — don’t mean anything compared to a living and breathing animal with feelings”

But that was before Tuesday, when Lecker took her issue straight to the Public Health and Safety Chairwoman. Today, it is looking like common sense and cooler heads may be prevailing in Wausau:

But Tipple said city leaders should consider adding an exception clause to the ordinance that could involve permits, for example, or allow residents to keep more than two dogs until a complaint is filed.

Could this be… progress? We are hopeful. Lecker, for her part, is committed to the cause — not just for her own family (they may still end up moving), but the entire community. And for that, we applaud her. Sometimes all it takes for big changes to occur is the passion of a committed individual.

Stray Dogs, Project Potcake, and Low-Cost Spay/Neuter

It may be hard to imagine, especially if you are living in a world with leash laws, animal control, and a culture that spays and neuters its pets, but stray dogs — not just one or two or a small pack, but thousands upon thousands — are a very real problem in many parts of the world. This is something we’ve been documenting for quite some time, an oft-neglected issue with major implications from both an animal welfare and public health and safety standpoint. Read more »

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