AVMA issues policy guidance for dog breeders and retailers

Model bill, regulations aim to enhance welfare
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The AVMA has released a comprehensive set of guidelines to aid state and local governments as they develop policies intended to promote the welfare of dogs bred and sold as pets.

It's not an unprecedented step for the AVMA, which has issued model legislation in the past. What makes these documents notable, however, is their scope and the fact that they also lay out the scientific rationale behind a minimum standard of care for dogs in breeding and retailing facilities.

Dog looking through a chain link fence

"The model bill and regulations were written for broad coverage," explained Dr. Gail C. Golab, AVMA Animal Welfare Division director. "They apply to high-volume breeders and high-volume retailers. The latter include not only pet shops but also animal shelters, Internet distributors, and rescues."

Dr. Golab is staff consultant to the Animal Welfare Committee, which, along with the AVMA State Advocacy Committee, submitted the documents to the Executive Board for approval. The board readily accepted the model bill and regulations, which apply to dogs not covered by the federal Animal Welfare Act or similar regulations.

More and more states are wrestling with how best to deal with an industry stigmatized by a number of high-profile abuse cases. The recent spike in the number of breeder-related bills introduced in state legislatures—more than 100 since 2009—caught the attention of the State Advocacy Committee, explained Adrian Hochstadt, JD, assistant director of State Legislative and Regulatory Affairs in the AVMA Communications Division.

Last year, six states enacted various regulations on dog breeders, and the District of Columbia has authorized its Department of Health to regulate dog breeders. Additionally, Illinois appointed a task force to determine whether dog breeder legislation is warranted.

"This was becoming a huge legislative issue, and the state VMAs were coming to us for help," said Hochstadt, who is staff consultant to the SAC.

The AVMA was limited in the assistance it could provide, since the Association lacked a formal policy addressing what were often very specific issues in the proposed regulations. Moreover, the legislation was "all over the map," according to Dr. Golab. Some bills allowed breeders the flexibility to tailor conditions to individual animals, while others were more prescriptive.

"Some bills used arbitrary criteria in saying a facility housing more than 50 dogs couldn't possibly do a good job, which is ridiculous. 'Number of animals' is not an independent variable in the animal welfare equation," Dr. Golab said. "You can have a facility with five animals and their welfare may be atrocious, whereas other facilities may be able to manage 100 animals very well. It's about making sure you have appropriate resources, facilities, and staff to care for the animals for which you are responsible."

Many of the bills included exemptions that would apparently undermine the sought-after benefits, Hochstadt added.

Work on the model bill and regulations began in 2009 and included input from affected stakeholders. The guidance is not a call to regulate the industry, but rather, an effort to provide a basis on which responsible, science-based legislation and regulation might be developed for those who choose, or are obligated by events, to go down that path.

The AVMA documents do not prescribe who is to raise or sell dogs, use few technical specifications to tell individuals how to raise dogs, and do not limit the number of animals that can be bred, raised, or sold.

"The basic philosophy underlying the bill is dogs deserve appropriate care, and it doesn't really matter where those dogs are being kept, whether they're in a shelter or a pet shop or a breeding facility," Dr. Golab said.

The "Model Bill and Regulations To Assure Appropriate Care for Dogs Intended for Use as Pets" are posted here.