Katy Nelson, special to wtop.com
WASHINGTON - In a newly released poll commissioned by the ASPCA, 71 percent of Americans surveyed felt sure that commercial dog breeders licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture treat their dogs humanely.
However, when asked what is considered humane treatment of dogs in commercial breeding facilities, the poll showed a vast difference in Americans' definition and what is legally required by the Animal Welfare Act, which is enforced by the USDA.
To most of us, the opportunity for a dog to go outside at least once a day, have access to basic veterinary care, live with more than 6 inches of spare space in a cage and be provided with protection from extreme head and cold, seem like intrinsic rights for animals.
However, none of these seemingly basic liberties are currently required by law, and therefore are not being enforced by the USDA.
Currently, only breeders who sell to pet stores or to puppy brokers are required to be licensed and inspected under the Animal Welfare Act.
Breeders who sell directly to consumers -- whether via the internet, newspaper classifieds or other outlets -- are exempt from any federal oversight and are not required to be licensed by the USDA or meet the regulatory standards of the Animal Welfare Act.
Legislation has been introduced in the form of the "PUPS Act" (Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety Act) that would require commercial breeders who sell their puppies directly to the public, sight unseen, to be licensed and inspected by the USDA.
The ASPCA hopes to work with the USDA to better enforce and improve the standards applied to these commercial dog breeding facilities.
As part of this campaign, the ASPCA recently launched a new consumer tool on its No Pet Store Puppies website. This tool aims to educate consumers about where pet store puppies really come from by showing them what it looks like inside many USDA licensed facilities.
"USDA standards, alone, do not ensure that dogs are treated humanely in commercial dog breeding facilities," says Cori Menkin, senior director of the ASPCA Puppy Mills Campaign. "With the new tool on the ASPCA's No Pet Store Puppies website, consumers can see for themselves what many commercial breeding facilities look like and make informed decisions to refrain from buying puppies at pet stores."
The database contains more than 10,000 photos of commercial dog breeding facilities and links some of them to the pet stores throughout the country that have sold puppies from them within the last year. Consumers can search the database by pet store name, USDA license number or name of the breeding facility, zip code and by specific breeds.
As Menkin puts it: "We [want to] encourage people looking for a pet to make adoption their first option, or seek a responsible breeder if they choose not to adopt."
National No Pet Store Puppies Day on July 21 celebrates the third year of the ASPCA's campaign to educate the public about the connection between pet stores and puppy mills. In honor of the day, the ASPCA has launched a video entitled "Meet Molly," which features a young girl named Molly with her rescue dog Joey, explaining why puppy mills are bad.
To learn more about how to identify a puppy mill, and what you can do to support the ASPCA's fight against these abhorrent commercial breeding facilities, watch The Pet Show with Dr. Katy on News Channel 8 this Saturday at 11 a.m.
Meet Molly, She's Helping Us Fight Puppy Mills!
Dr. Katy Nelson is an emergency veterinarian in Alexandria, Va. Tune in to "The Pet Show" with Dr. Katy every Saturday at 11 a.m. on Washington D.C.'s News Channel 8, and listen on WTOP for her Dr. Pawz segments every two weeks. Have questions for Dr. Katy? You can follow her on Twitter @drkatynelson, on Facebook or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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