WASHINGTON – Norma J. Worley's tale of puppy-love might make Internet pet purchasers bark in anger.
Worley,director of Maine's Animal Welfare Program,said she sees many pet seekers browse through pictures of pups or kittens on the Internet until they fall in love with a picture of their ideal pet.
Or,rather,what they think is their ideal pet.
Speaking Tuesday to the Senate Agriculture committee,Worley was one of a litter of witnesses pushing for legislation to crack down on “puppy mills,” which maltreat pets and exploit purchasers.
Often,the pets are shipped in small crates and held in cargo for 12-15 hours at a time,Worley said. Upon arrival,the pets might be sick,have genetic disorders from poor mating practices or just be a “horrible example of the breed.”
“The new owner is totally confused,angry and frustrated,but,as it is in most cases,has now fallen in love with this poor creature,” Worley said.
Drawing bipartisan support from the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee,the activists are working with Sen. Rick Santorum,R-Pa.,the committee chair,to craft legislation to close the loophole that allows mistreatment of animals and deceptive sales.
Animal reproduction regulatory law – which dates to 1966 – targets pet wholesalers,making the U.S. Department of Agriculture responsible for checking living and breeding conditions. But the law shields pet retailers from federal oversight,under the assumption that pet purchasers visiting stores will be able to see living conditions for themselves.
The number of puppies bought over the Internet grew to at least 200,000 last year,a trend that allows large-scale breeders to pass as “retailers,” said Sara Amundson,legislative director of the Doris Day Animal League.
“Individuals who would likely buy a puppy are increasingly finding it difficult to go to the property and have a look at how the puppies are cared for,” Amundson said. “Times have changed.”
The Pet Animal Welfare Statute of 2005,called PAWS,would regulate retail commercial breeders,Internet sellers and most people who sell more than 25 dogs or cats per year. It would also cover sellers of other animals,but with different limits.
Some PAWS supporters said the legislation needs significant revision. Michael Maddox,legislative director of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council,said the legislation is written too broadly.
“PIJAC feels certain that Congress does not wish to subject a 10-year-old child to federal licensure for selling a couple of baby hamsters,” Maddox told the committee.
Maddox said that Santorum was working with animal rights groups to iron out details,but he added the bill does not distinguish between high volume breeders and “real” retailers.
“The way it's crafted,it effectively runs contrary to the whole retail exemption,” Maddox said in an interview after his testimony.
Some groups flat-out oppose the legislation.
“This is a disaster of a bill,” said Robert Kane,founder and chief executive officer of Sportsmen's and Animal Owners' Voting Alliance,which claims 18,000 members. “PAWS has the effect of threatening every owner of a dog.”
PAWS would increase the number of animal breeders subject to federal inspection from 10,000 to 300,000,Kane said.