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New USDA Guidance Emphasizes Licensing Requirements for Rescues and Rescue Transporters

A document released last week provides clarification and guidance on the USDA Retail Pet Store Rule and the Importation of Live Dogs Rule. This guidance contains no new policy changes, but highlights federal licensing requirements for individuals and groups that distribute or transport pets for transfer or sale within the United States.

USDA licensing is recognized standard practice for breeders, distributors and transporters within the traditional retail pet sector. However, many in the less well-defined and less well-regulated rescue sector may be unaware that their pet adoption/sales, distribution or transportation activities may be subject to licensing and inspection by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA/APHIS).

The new USDA guidance further corrects the common misperception that certain organizational or tax statuses (such as a not-for-profit or charitable designation) provide an exemption from USDA licensing and oversight.

The new guidance emphasizes that individuals and groups, including rescue groups that transfer, sight-unseen, a pet that they did not breed, are subject to regulation, licensing and inspection as USDA Class B dealers (wholesalers).  

For private adoption groups, the requirement for USDA licensing depends on the way they conduct their pet transfer transactions. If the group receives compensation for the animals, whether it is an “adoption fee”, “donation” or reimbursement for expenses, they may need licensing. If the transfer to the new owner does not take place in a face-to-face transaction, then they will need a license for the person or group (other than a government) that receives compensation for an animal.

The Animal Welfare Act also requires the USDA to regulate pet transport. Therefore, those who transport regulated animals may be required to register with the USDA as “Intermediate Handlers” or “Carriers” and comply with all applicable regulations.

An Intermediate Handler is defined as: any person including a department, agency, or instrumentality of the United States or of any State or local government (other than a dealer, research facility, exhibitor, any person excluded from the definition of a dealer, research facility, or exhibitor, an operator of an auction sale, or a carrier) who is engaged in any business in which he receives custody of animals in connection with their transportation in commerce.

A Carrier is: the operator of any airline, railroad, motor carrier, shipping line, or other enterprise which is engaged in the business of transporting any animals for hire.

The new guidance further states: If you provided compensation to the volunteer for the transportation, including reimbursement of expenses, the volunteer will need registration, if not otherwise exempt. If the group uses an Intermediate Handler or Carrier to transport the regulated species, then the sales for compensation would not be face-to-face. The group would need a license and inspection and the Intermediate Handler or Carrier would have to meet USDA standards and be subject to inspection.

A face-to-face transaction is one in which the buyer, seller, and animal must be in the same place at the same time before the purchase and/or transfer of the animal. Those that transfer all their pets in face-to-face transactions are considered to be retail pet stores, subject to public oversight, and may qualify for the retail pet store exemption for USDA licensing. 

The AKC urges those who are involved in pet rescue, fostering, transport, and relocation to review the guidance carefully and comply with all requirements. Issuance of this guidance suggests that increased enforcement could be just around the corner. 

Final answers are not yet available for clarifications requested by the AKC and Congress on issues such as a de minimis exemption; therefore, individuals and groups should be aware of their responsibilities under existing rules.

The guidance also provides answers to commonly-asked questions regarding which breeders should obtain USDA licensing under the Retail Pet Store Rule. For most breeders who register their dogs with the AKC, changes in USDA licensing requirements that went into effect in November 2013 should be no surprise. In general, those who maintain more than four breeding females and transfer one or more pets “sight-unseen” (not face-to-face) are subject to licensing as a USDA Class A Breeder/Dealer. For more information about breeder licensing, view Does the New Retail Pet Store Rule Affect Me? and AKC’s Regulatory Resources webpage.

The American Kennel Club believes that all that dogs deserve quality care and conditions, regardless of the numbers in which they are kept or the reasons for they are kept. Anyone handling, transferring, or transporting dogs should undertake these activities with the dogs’ health and wellbeing as their primary concern.  Common sense dictates that regulations should be enforced to protect the health, safety, and welfare of all dogs in transport and commerce, regardless of the purpose of the organization engaged in that activity.

The AKC urges the USDA to equally enforce the health, welfare, licensing and reporting requirements for all regulated pets transported and transferred in the United States. 

For questions that are not addressed in the new guidance, contact, call APHIS headquarters at 301-851-3751, or call the APHIS Stakeholder Program Specialists toll free at 844-820-2234 Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern time.