Will HSUS Lobbying Squash Rescue Groups?

The dog-breeding community is up in arms over a proposed rule from the USDA that would change licensing requirements for selling animals. Essentially, we read the rule to be like this: If you sell pets, you need to allow buyers come to your premises personally to observe the animal before purchase, or get a federal license and allow the USDA to inspect your business. Hobby breeders with four or fewer breeding animals would be exempt.

The main idea is to clamp down on “puppy mills” that sell dogs over the internet or phone. But could the regulations rope in more than just the bad guys?

Before the formal commenting period opening on the proposal, the USDA held a Q&A conference call for interested parties to ask questions, since this is a volatile issue. A speaker from the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association asked the USDA if shelters and rescues would also come under the regulations. Here’s the exchange, as given to us in a transcript:

Arnold Goldman [CVMA]: […]There are many ways that consumers can obtain a dog over the internet.  Do you envision in the future the agency taking a position similar to this for shelter and rescue dogs that are shipped interstate great distances?

Kevin Shea [USDA]: Well if they are sold, they come under this rule.

Arnold Goldman:  Yeah, and that’s the definition of the word “sold” is, you know, is what affects that. I mean, when fees are exchanged that are considered adoption fees, you know, that’s widely considered not to be sold.  But I think that’s a point that needs examination.

Kevin Shea: Yeah we appreciate that very much and again one of the kinds of things that we will need to consider and we will really welcome comments on it.

So it’s possible that adoption fees will count as “selling” an animal. Rescue groups give someone an animal in exchange for money. (You never know when it comes to legalese. It’s kind of like when politicians call a new tax a “fee.” It’s still a tax, just a different word.) That could be a problem for a lot of smaller groups that rely on adoption fees for a significant part of their operating budget. It may not be for profit, but it is still to generate revenue.

Even HSUS seems worried about it, asking its supporters to urge the USDA to “make clear that nonprofit homeless animal rescue groups are not covered under the definition of ‘dealer.’”

What’s at stake for rescues? If brought under this licensing regulation, it could spell the end of off-site “pet fairs” or “adoption days,” since those would preclude adopters from seeing the rescue’s facilities.

The final rule has not been issued; in fact, comments are open through mid-July. We’ll see where this goes. There’s reason to be skeptical that animal groups won’t seek some kind of government regulation of rescues. According to a former HSUS Vice President, rescues and shelters allegedly constitute 25 percent of animal hoarding cases, and the ASPCA claims that one sign of a “hoarder” rescue is that it won’t let the public see where it keeps its animals. So while rescues may not be “dealers” under the above proposal, they too may get slapped with regulations requiring them to open their doors to the feds.

Don’t shelters and rescues have enough to deal with—you know, with most not seeing a nickel from HSUS—without the worry of federal regulators?