As USDA had previously suggested, it just posted a new version of the searchable database that had been dismantled this past February.  Access to the new version is available here.

Many animal rights organizations and animal-trade organizations had expressed outrage or concern when USDA initially dismantled its database.  The current version may not effectuate changes to those positions, since much of the information about individual licensees (compared to licensed businesses) appears to be redacted.

Also, it seems as if license numbers are not available for individuals, but it could be I need to more carefully review the instructions for searching the new database to find that information.

It is a given, that those clamoring for this data will be hard at work deciphering what is and what is not available.

For those pet stores and dealers in towns, cities and states that are required to provide inspection reports to sell puppies, it seems as if the only way to provide such documents from breeders licensed as individuals is to obtain the reports directly from those breeders.

Genetic testing in human and animal medicine has been used for some time, and shows great promise, when used judiciously.  For example, genotyping the avian influenza virus and other pathogens has helped animal and human health officials understand the spread of pathogens so that measures can be implemented to prevent or mitigate such spread.

As reported by Greg Cima, “[f]aster, cheaper genome sequencing is helping public health researchers identify the risks of drug resistance and medical treatment failure . . . The sequences also may help federal investigators find outbreak sources, by geographic location and species, as well as guide vaccine and antimicrobial development.”  Finding risks in a flood of genetic data, JAVMAnews Issues, Aug. 1, 2016. .

According to Dr. Jerold Bell, a small animal practitioner and adjunct professor at the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, “[c]ompanies are using diagnostics to determine what breeds exist in a mixed-breed dog . . . Some companies take it one step further and also tests for genes controlling body conformation and known disease-causing mutations.”  M.S, Filippo, Genetic testing for pets quickly catching up to its human counterpart, AVMA press release, 8/8/2016.

Diagnostic test results are rarely dispositive, and the reliability of the results can be influenced by many factors, including, but not limited to: sample collection; quality control and quality assurance of test reagents; method and proficiency of testing; and interpretation of test results.  Even tests performed by USDA-APHIS-approved laboratories that are part of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network, using reference materials and proficiency tests produced at the National Veterinary Services Laboratory that are accredited to international standards, must be interpreted by knowledgeable clinicians.

As a large animal veterinarian, when I received laboratory results from state or private laboratories that did not seem consistent with my patient’s clinical signs, I would consult with the laboratory director and other officials to discuss those inconsistencies.  Sometimes, additional testing was warranted.  In some cases, the final results were never definitive.

As the Director, Division of Animal Health, New Jersey Department of Agriculture I was responsible for the oversight of the only animal health diagnostic laboratory in the State, and for interpreting laboratory results related to regulated and reportable diseases.  That analysis started with the laboratory test results, and where the results appeared inconsistent with the clinical signs of the tested animal, an in depth review of the testing process from sample collection to results ensued.

Based on this extensive background and understanding of testing, I am concerned about the inappropriate use of certain genetic tests to refute the pedigree registration status of purebred dogs.  As several courts have held, genetic testing is currently not dispositive of pedigree registration status.  See, e.g., Sandra Shines v. Furry Babies Stratford Square, Inc., No. 13-3592, slip op. at 9 (Ill. 18th Jud. Cir. Jan. 22, 2014) (finding DNA test results unreliable to support plaintiff’s claim that the cocker spaniel in dispute was a mixed breed).

Mars Veterinary, a business unit of Mars Petcare that sells a DNA genetic test called Wisdom Panel® warns that the test is not “intended to be used in any judicial proceedings” and further suggests that “[i]f questions arise as to a purebred dog’s pedigree and breed ancestry, parentage testing through the AKC is the appropriate course of action. For this evaluation, the documented sire and/or dam are examined to ensure they were the genetic contributors to the dog in question. If they are confirmed as the parents, their pedigree (and breed) is conferred onto the puppy.”  See Wisdom Panel® Terms and Conditions.

The purebred status of dogs is based on documentation confirming each dog’s lineage, required by the relevant breed canine breed registries—not the results of DNA testing.  Similarly, ancestry DNA testing in humans could not be used to nullify the citizen status of a third-generation U.S. citizen, no matter what their genetic makeup reveals.

The proper use of genetic testing is reflected in AVMA’s new policy on “Inherited Disorders in Responsible Breeding of Companion Animals” which “supports research in genetic and inherited disorders to better educate the profession and breeders on identifying and minimizing inherited disorders in companion animal breeding programs.”  K. Burns, AVMA passes policy on responsible pet breeding, JAVMAnews, Feb. 15, 2017.

Undoubtedly, genetic testing will be used as a increasingly important tool for pathogen tracking, disease control purposes, to help guide responsible dog breeders and to help identify the genetic make-up of mixed breed dogs, with unknown pedigree.

 

New Jersey Senate Bill No. 2847,  introduced on December 12, 2016 would make some important beneficial changes to the laws governing animal rescue organizations and shelters in New Jersey, but would also require the unnecessary and harmful premature spay and neuter of cats and dogs before sale from pet shops, kennels, shelters, pounds, and animal rescue organizations.

Considering the positive amendments first, the bill would require registration of all animal rescue organizations with the State Department of Health.  Registration is currently voluntary.

Pursuant to Public Law 2011, Chapter 142, the New Jersey Department of Health shall establish a voluntary registry of animal rescue organizations and their facilities.

As of November 3, 2016 there were 70 in-state and out-of-state animal rescue organizations voluntarily registered in New Jersey, as listed on the DOH website.

Registration and oversight of animal rescue organizations is sorely needed.

Another positive amendment in S2847 is the ability of shelters or pounds to euthanize an animal surrendered by its owner before the current seven-day waiting period, and the ability to euthanize a stray or an animal surrendered by someone other its owner if a veterinarian determines “that the animal is in extreme pain and cannot recover from the illness or condition that is causing the pain.”

A veterinarian should make this determination for animals surrendered by their owners or other individuals for at least 2 reasons: (1) proper animal ownership can be difficult to determine; and (2) the irreversible decision whether or not to euthanize an owned pet should be decided by a veterinarian, trained and licensed to make such determinations.

As for the requirement to spay or neuter a dog or cat before sale, so long as the animal is merely two months old, for reasons previously discussed, this premature, unnecessary elective surgery at so young an age exposes each animal to short and long-term injury and harm.  Increasingly, scientific evidence proves that the early removal of endocrine glands, such as testes and ovaries, increases the incidence of certain metabolic disorders, including some forms of cancer, and can decrease the lifespan of certain pets.  The decision about when to spay or neuter an individual pet should be determined by the owner in consultation with their veterinarian, after learning about the risks and benefits of such procedures.  Veterinarians are increasingly advising dog owners to wait until at least after the pet’s first reproductive cycle to sterilize their dog.  The requirement remains with each owner to ensure that their pet is not irresponsibly bred until it is spayed or neutered.

Finally, the requirement for shelters and pounds to pay owners up to $250.00 for any pet released before it is spayed or neutered could have a devastating impact on these organizations who are already struggling to compete with animal rescue organizations.

If amended to address these concerns, S2847 could be supportable.

 

On Monday, November 14, 2016, the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee will consider the Assembly version (A2338) of Senator Lesniak’s amendments to the Pet Purchase Protection Act (S63).  The problems with these amendments were previously discussed here.

Anyone interested in testifying should attend the Committee meeting at 2:00 PM Committee Room 9, 3rd Floor, State House Annex, Trenton, NJ.

Since its passage in the Senate, there has not been much action with the Assembly version of S63.

However, as recently reported by Andrew George on njbiz.com

“Lesniak says he’s planning to amend the bill” to address concerns of pet store owners and their sources, including “eliminating the grandfathering portion of the measure and lifting the restriction on new pet stores to only source from kennels, shelters or animal rescues.”

However, there is no new version of the bill with these amendments to review.

Even with these amendments, the bill and the existing law, impermissibly bans sales to pet stores from licensed breeders who have not been finally determined to have violated the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).

The Pet Protection Act bans sales to pet stores from licensed pet dealer who:

  • has been cited on a USDA inspection report for a direct violation of the federal AWA or corresponding regulations during the two-year period prior to purchase;
  • has been cited on a USDA inspection report during the two-year period prior to the purchase by the pet store for three or more indirect violations of the Awa or corresponding regulations.
  • is cited on the two most recent USDA inspection reports prior to the purchase of the animal by the pet shop for no-access violations.

As recently discussed in Pet Stores Under Attack, only an USDA Administrative Law Judge can make a determination that a licensee has violated the AWA. A noncompliant item on an inspection report does not constitute a violation of the act.

Individual pet stores and customers can (and should) review USDA reports and determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether to purchase from particular breeders.

S63, the year-old amendments to the PPPA and similar ordinances will not (and have not) affected any actual puppy mills, because, as defined by USDA’s OIG, these facilities are large commercial unlicensed breeders. Banning sales from hobby breeders, exempt from USDA licensure because these breeders provide humane care to their dogs, will not affect puppy mills.

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.

 

At its core, the Law is an attempt at economic protectionism of the City’s favored source of pets, animal shelters and rescues, who are expressly exempted from the Laws’ sourcing restrictions and mandatory sterilization requirements for pet stores, and discriminates against articles of commerce (puppies) coming from other states based simply on their origin from Class B licensees. See Philadelphia v. New Jersey, 437 U.S. 617, 626-627 (1978)

This law does not protect the public health or welfare, an oft-cited defense used by cities like New York in response to constitutional challenges that the laws violate the Commerce Clause.

If the City wanted to ban the importation of puppies to protect human or animal health, it could do so by banning the importation of all puppies from any source. Instead it has, in practical effect, banned the importation of the highly regulated, inspected, purposely bred and humanely raised healthy puppies from Class B licensees to pet stores, and favors the importation of dogs known to have the highest incidence of infectious diseases, behavioral and physical disorders from retail rescue channels.

The City said the Law is needed to prevent the sale of puppies from puppy mills, where they claim pet stores obtain their puppies. First, pet stores do not buy from substandard, large commercial breeders, known as “puppy mills.” NYC pet stores buy their puppies from either USDA licensed breeders with 5 or more females that have not been finally determined to have violated the Animal Welfare Act or breeders with 4 or fewer females whom USDA has determined do not have to be licensed because they exceed humane standards of care. These purchases are commonly made with the assistance of Class B dealers who serve as the wholesalers, or middlemen of the interstate pet market. Since the Law bans sales from Class B dealers to pet stores, it creates an impermissible burden to interstate commerce.

The Law discriminates against the sources NYC pet stores rely upon (Class B’s and their sources) who are out of state and favors the in state rescues and shelters who obtain their animals from unlicensed sources.

Further, the burden imposed on interstate commerce is quantitatively and qualitatively different from that imposed on intrastate commerce, a critical element in commerce clause analysis. National Electrical Manufacturers Ass’n. v. Sorrell, 272 F.3d 104, 109 (2nd Cir. 2001) The Law forces the entire regulated interstate pet market to change their marketing practices, but does not require NYC’s shelters and rescues to make any changes.

This Law, along with the 140 other pet store sourcing bans that HSUS says have been passed throughout the country, has already impacted the interstate pet market.

For example, the USDA-estimated there are between 5,800-10,360 exempt breeders throughout the country, will be unable to sell to pet stores in the City. For these breeders to sell to pet stores in the City, they will have to add breeding females and become Class A licensed breeders.

From 2008 to 2014 the number of Class A breeders decreased by 75%, in large part as a result of pet store sourcing bans. Class A breeders will have to add staff and marketing efforts that they currently rely on Class B dealers to provide. Many Class A breeders cannot expand their businesses, and therefore will be unable to sell to NYC pet stores.

From 2008 to 2014 Class B pet dealers decreased by 85%, in large part as a result of pet store sourcing bans. The City bans Class B sales to pet stores entirely. Because the New York City market is the largest pet market in the country, the impact of this Law to the interstate market will be significant.

 

We are proud to represent the New York Pet Welfare Association, whose members include purposely-bred dog owners, breeders, wholesalers, pet stores and veterinarians from across the country. This association, like many other hard-working, animal-loving businesses and individuals, has been increasingly under assault by wealthy nonprofit and retail rescue organizations, including ASPCA and HSUS, (“Retail Rescue Organizations”) intent on eliminating the only source of healthy, humanely-raised, highly regulated puppies in this country.

Over the next several blogs I will describe the legal challenges facing the interstate pet market, including the NYPWA and its members in New York City.

New York City adopted a law which was drafted to essentially eliminate pet stores as a source of pets for City residents—actions that necessarily impact interstate commerce as will be discussed. The law favors the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, the City’s animal shelter (Animal Care & Control) and Retail Rescue Organizations that, despite their “nonprofit” status, are profiting handsomely from their transactions with pets, particularly dogs. As deputy commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Daniel Kass testified, the intended effect of this law is to make it “more difficult to acquire [dogs and cats] through pet shops, or more expensive to acquire puppies or kittens from breeders. We hope that, overall, the expanded regulation of pet shops will encourage New Yorkers to adopt from shelters run by Animal Care and Control.”

The City law bans sales to pet stores from all Class B licensees (whom USDA licenses as wholesalers who purchase from breeders and sell to pet stores) no matter how well they take of their animals. There are no stricter standards required for these licensees to comply with. In fact, the law, as it pertains to Class B’s, has no standards at all. As long as you qualify for and have obtained a USDA Class B license, you can no longer sell to pet stores in the City.

The City law also limits sales to pet stores from Class A breeders, as long as they have not been finally determined to have violated the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) within a specified number of years. Only a USDA Administrative Law Judge can make a final determination of such a violation. However, commonly, the Retail Rescue Organizations intentionally misrepresent that findings on USDA inspection reports are violations of the AWA. They are not. Noncompliant items on inspection reports are not considered finally determined violations of the AWA.

By limiting sales to pet stores from Class A breeders, the law silently prohibits sales from hobby breeders to pet stores—those with 4 or fewer breeding females that USDA has exempted from licensure after finding that they meet or exceed the humane standards of care required by federal law.

In addition to these sourcing restrictions, which animal shelters and rescues are expressly exempt from, the law requires that pet stores sell only dogs and cats that are spayed or neutered as long as they weigh a mere 2 pounds and are at least 8 weeks old. Despite testimony from veterinarians, including those with expertise in the field of animal reproduction, informing the City that such a requirement will unnecessarily harm many puppies and kill some, the City has not amended this law.

This law, as we have alleged, impermissibly discriminates against interstate commerce and creates an insurmountable obstacle for the entire interstate pet market to comply with the enforcement mechanisms set forth in the AWA and related regulations, which includes a robust licensing scheme for breeders, wholesalers, and retail operations. The law similarly creates an insurmountable obstacle for veterinarians and pet stores to comply with state laws governing veterinary medicine and also the draconian provisions mandating sterilization of pets before sale.

These issues will be discussed separately in upcoming posts.

 

Animal rescue organizations and animal shelters have replaced pet stores as the primary source of dogs throughout the United States.

Unfathomably, concerns about the health of dogs imported from other states and countries are rarely discussed. Unsuspecting adopters could end up with dogs that have serious, sometimes fatal diseases.

For example, dogs that have been increasingly imported from Puerto Rico may be infested with heartworms and suffering from heartworm disease, which according to the AVMA is “a progressive, life-threatening disease.”

There are reportedly 100,000 stray dogs in Puerto Rico, where abandoning dogs is common and spaying and neutering is not the common practice.

According to “The Sato Project,” a nonprofit organization formed to rescue abandoned & abused dogs from Puerto Rico, heartworm infestation is widespread in Puerto Rico.

Roughly 70% of the dogs The Sato Project rescues are heartworm positive, requiring expensive and lengthy medical treatment.

The AVMA confirms that heartworm is prevalent in dogs in Puerto Rico:

There is a distinct geographic pattern for heartworm disease, with the highest prevalence of heartworm infection in 2015 occurring in the Southeastern states and Puerto Rico.

The American Heartworm Society whose “Mission is to lead the Veterinary Profession & the Public  in the understanding of Heartworm disease,,” explains that heartworm disease “is caused by foot-long worms (heartworms) that live in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels of affected pets, causing severe lung disease, heart failure and damage to other organs in the body.”

Signs of heartworm disease may include a mild persistent cough, reluctance to exercise, fatigue after moderate activity, decreased appetite, and weight loss. As heartworm disease progresses, pets may develop heart failure and the appearance of a swollen belly due to excess fluid in the abdomen. Dogs with large numbers of heartworms can develop a sudden blockages of blood flow within the heart leading to a life-threatening form of cardiovascular collapse. This is called caval syndrome, and is marked by a sudden onset of labored breathing, pale gums, and dark bloody or coffee-colored urine. Without prompt surgical removal of the heartworm blockage, few dogs survive.

Heartworm is not the only disease of concern in dogs imported from Puerto Rico for adoption. Rabies cases in dogs from Puerto Rico have been diagnosed, as reported by the CDC:

During 2014, domestic animals accounted for 47.9% of all animals submitted for testing, but only 7.37% (n = 445) of all rabies cases reported, representing a decrease of 4.71% compared with the 467 reported in 2013.

Of the fifty-nine rabid dogs reported in 2014 . . . [m]ost of the rabid dogs were reported from Texas (n = 14 [23.7%]), Puerto Rico (12 [20.3%]), and Oklahoma (9 [15.2]).

While clearly there are abandoned, stray dogs in Puerto Rico in need of homes, these animals may harbor diseases that will decrease their longevity or require significant veterinary care and related expenses, that unwitting adopters may not be aware of.

Moving the unwanted stray dogs from Puerto Rico to adopters on the mainland will not stop the continued overpopulation on that island without more.

Animal rescue organizations like The Sato Project and Second Chance Animal Rescue importantly do not just remove dogs from Puerto Rico and offer them for adoption, they also educate local residents about the importance of responsible pet ownership, which includes preventing unplanned dog breeding by proper sterilization of owned dogs.  That still may not be enough to change the landscape on the island.

.At the same time, responsibly and purposely-bred dogs should not be banned to force pet owners to obtain dogs only from rescue sources.

Senator Linda Greenstein recently introduced 2 bills in New Jersey-S 2288 and S 2289.

S 2288 would establish the Pet Groomers Licensing Act also known as “Bijou’s Law.”  This bill and its companion, A908, have been around since 2014.

S 2288  would require the New Jersey State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners to license “pet groomers” defined as “an individual who bathes, brushes, clips, or styles a pet for compensation” and to establish regulations governing pet grooming.

It is unlikely that the New Jersey State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners is in a position to license pet groomers as required in this bill.

S 2289 would require breeders or other providers of dogs to pet shops to certify compliance with dog breeding and care regulations that the New Jersey Department of Health would be required to promulgate and would prohibit pet shop sale of dogs without such certification. The bill would also require inspections paid for, in part by the reallocation of dog license revenues.

The corresponding assembly version of this bill, A3645 has been previously discussed.

As a reminder, as described in the bill statement, S 2289 would:

require that, as a condition of the sale or transfer of a dog within or into the State, any breeder or owner or operator of a business providing dogs to pet shops submit a certification to the Department of Health (DOH) that it is in compliance with DOH regulations establishing proper breeding practices and standards of care for female dogs and puppies at any facility used for the breeding or housing of dogs. The bill directs the DOH to adopt regulations that:

1) establish breeding practices and a standard of care for female dogs and puppies at a facility used for breeding or housing dogs;

2) prohibit a female dog from being bred more than once every 365 days; and

3) establish the procedures and requirements for the certification of compliance required to be submitted by breeders or owners or operators of a business providing dogs to pet shops in the State.

Furthermore, the bill prohibits a pet shop from selling or offering to sell any dog unless the pet shop has obtained from the breeder or the owner or operator of a business providing dogs to pet shops a copy of the certification submitted to the DOH. The bill also provides that, notwithstanding this prohibition, a pet shop may sell or offer for sale any dog obtained by the pet shop directly from a shelter, pound, or animal rescue organization. The DOH or the local health authority, if so authorized by the DOH, is required to inspect each pet shop within 30 days after it opens for business, and once every 90 days thereafter, to determine if the pet shop is in compliance with the requirements of the bill. The bill provides a revenue source for implementing the bill by reallocating one third of dog registration tag fees moneys collected by municipalities to the municipality for this purpose. Finally, the bill also establishes a penalty for violations of a fine for up to $1,000 and possible license revocation for the pet shop.

This bill would make it untenable for any pet store to continue to sell dogs.