The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) has been disemboweled by local jurisdictions around the country that have banned sales to pet shops from USDA licensees and those specifically exempted from licensure, which shops rely upon to provide healthy puppies to people choosing to purchase a specially-bred puppy with specific physical and behavioral traits best suited to that pet owner’s particular needs.
Beginning around 2008, animal rights organizations began persuading lawmakers to implement decades-long campaigns to eliminate commercial dog breeding by banning sales of puppies in pet shops that they claim are sourced from “puppy mills,” a pejorative term used for any dog breeder, licensed or not. At their urging, lawmakers in many jurisdictions have limited pet shops to sales of animals sourced from shelters and rescues, which are largely unregulated entities that transfer ownership of randomly sourced dogs that have an unacceptably high prevalence of infectious diseases and other disorders.
While the AWA permits local jurisdictions to adopt more rigorous standards of care than the law prescribes, the bans have gone too far—in many cases sales are banned from USDA licensees based solely on the existence of validly held licenses. Sourcing bans that are not based on the standards of care licensees provide to animals should be considered pre-empted by the AWA. Reliance on the mere citation of a violation of the AWA on an inspection report as the basis for such bans is not legally sound. Congress established the mechanisms for licensure and loss thereof, which these local laws ignore.
Through the adoption of as over 150 laws across the country, the animal health and welfare requirements set forth by Congress in the AWA to protect animals and people have been effectively removed. If such laws are not enjoined, they will cumulatively render the federal regulation superfluous to the local sales bans or, at best, be subject to a labyrinthine patchwork of local regulation. This is precisely the situation the Framers of the Constitution sought to avoid through the Supremacy Clause.
Under the false banner of humane care and consumer protection, these bans will harm animals, their owners, and create a public health risk through the introduction of infectious diseases, which, like rabies, are fatal. If these local laws are not enjoined, they will eliminate the market that Congress has sought to regulate through the AWA. This cannot be a proper result.