USDA must do more to crack down on abusive puppy mills

April 23, 2019
In The News

In March, the Department of Agriculture proposed a new rule that could eliminate some of the worst practices at puppy mills — large commercial puppy breeding operations that often keep hundreds of dogs in crowded and inhumane conditions.


Puppy mills exist to churn out puppies for the pet market, selling them online and through pet stores nationwide. Currently, there are tens of thousands of breeding dogs trapped in puppy mills, and at least 2,500 commercial dog breeders, many of which would meet the description of a puppy mill, are licensed by the USDA.

These dogs often spend their lives in tiny, cramped cages with little or no personal attention. Many of them are sick. A recent outbreak of antibiotic resistant disease in humans that was linked to puppies from puppy mills by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention demonstrates the danger of failing to ensure these dogs are kept in a healthy and safe environment.

The USDA’s proposed rule, which is now open for public input until May 21, would require federally licensed dog breeders to obtain an annual hands-on veterinary exam for each dog, as well as vaccinations to prevent deadly diseases. The proposal would also require dog breeders to provide dogs with fresh water continually, unless veterinary needs prohibit it. The rule would also prevent certain puppy dealers from getting a new license if they have been found with unacceptable conditions or if they have had a previous license revoked.

These are much needed improvements. In fact, they are such commonsense measures that many people would understandably be shocked to know that they aren’t already part of the current rules. The public should weigh in with resounding support.

But to end some of the most distressing conditions at puppy mills, more needs to be done. Dogs in commercial breeding operations deserve a decent quality of life, not just a clean bowl of water and an annual vet exam. They also deserve room to run, fresh air, and spacious, comfortable housing. But current rules under the Animal Welfare Act only require enough cage space for dogs in puppy mills to turn around and lie down, and the rules allow cages to be stacked one on top of another, which stresses animals, encourages overcrowding, reduces fresh air flow, and prevents proper sanitation.

What is needed is to double the required cage space so that dogs have room to move, not just turn around, and it should require ground-level, unstacked cages. In addition, the USDA should ban the practice of keeping dogs on painful gridded or wire flooring that can hurt their feet.

I hope that thousands of fellow citizens will write to the USDA in support of this rule. Public comments will be accepted through May 21. Please urge the USDA to expand the rule by taking this opportunity to greatly improve dogs’ living conditions as well as their healthcare. Request that each dog have access to a ground-level enclosure without cages stacked above or below it, and with a solid floor and enough space to run and play.

This is the least we can do to ensure that the dogs who produce America’s next generation of pets, the loving animals that so many of us consider part of our families, are protected and have a life worth living — at the very least, that’s what they deserve.

Matt Gaetz represents Florida’s 1st Congressional District. Pam Bondi is Florida’s former attorney general. Brian Mast represents Florida's 18th Congressional District. Lara Trump is a former television producer and campaign adviser to President Trump, her father-in-law.