Shelters, Rescues, and pet stores all provide pets for consumers. The transfer of ownership is the same, whether described as an “adoption” or “sale.” Both the federal and state governments consider the transfer of ownership from these entities to be equivalent. The transfer of money for these pets is considered remuneration, whether based on a sale, adoption fee or donation. USDA “consider[s] acts of compensation to include any remuneration for the animals, regardless of whether it is for profit or not for profit.” The critical question is whether the comparators serve the same market, not whether the articles of commerce are identical.

Pet stores, shelters and rescues are all considered “pet dealers” as defined by Congress in the AWA and USDA. A pet dealer is “any person who, in commerce for compensation or profit delivers for transportation . . . buys, sells or negotiates the purchase or sale of any dog or other animal . . . for use as a pet.”

The legislative history of the AWA makes clear that this definition was “intended to include nonprofit or charitable institutions which handles dogs and cats” and that the definition of “dealer” was “not intended to exclude from licensing or regulation those nonprofit or charitable institutions or animal shelters which supply animals in commerce to research facilities for compensation of their out-of-pocket expenses.”

Importantly, the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, a 501(c)(3) non-profit charity, has been functioning as an unlicensed USDA Class B dealer by transferring animals from the City’s Shelters to more than 140 partner Rescues in a program called the New Hope Transfer Program. Alliance President “Hoffman said she thinks of the Transfer Program as a giant distribution network with AC&C as the ‘wholesaler’ and the partner organizations as ‘retailers’ who get the animals face-to-face with the public.”

Like pet stores, rescues and some shelters import dogs into the Northeast for sale/adoption, similar to the business model of a pet store. The biggest difference between pet stores, rescues and shelters is that pet stores and their sources are highly regulated and shelters and rescues are not.

The explosion of interstate and international transportation of dogs and cats through rescue channels, largely unregulated, exposes humans and animals alike to infectious, contagious diseases and parasites. As a result, state animal health officials adopted or amended state laws to regulate animal transfers from shelters and rescues in similar or more stringent ways than sales from pet stores. USDA and CDC have also issued alerts and amended regulations to prevent disease spread from pets imported from other countries for sale in rescue channels in the U.S.

One of the most profitable shelters/rescues in the NYC area, the North Shore Animal League (NSAL), advertises that they sell dogs and cats throughout the City, which they regularly obtain from substandard breeders throughout the country. According to their website, they “reach across the country to rescue animals from overcrowded shelters, unwanted litters, puppy mills, natural disasters and other emergencies and find them permanent, loving homes.”

NSAL rescued at least 3,562 pets from 13 states and Puerto Rico from December, 2010 until December, 2014. This is a highly lucrative business. In Fiscal Year 2013, NSAL reported: total revenues of $35,655,064, with $1,524,982 for its Pet Rescue and Adoption; compensation of current officers, directors and key employees totaling $1,611,478; and payment of other salaries and wages totaling $10,210,036. NSAL also reports that it contracts with other rescues and shelters, obtaining and importing pets for adoption from other states to the State and City.

For example, Precious Friends, a shelter in Tennessee contracts with NSAL to “take [animals] from shelters located in Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Ohio, Texas, Illinois, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, and Indiana” and send them to NSAL.

More recently, NSAL has advertised to purchase puppies from any source for resale.