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–Monday June, 13 AKC Delegate Meeting, Chicago IL

Remarks from Dr. James Holt, AKC's Legislative Liaison Regarding the Pet Animal Welfare Statute of 2005–

The Chair now calls on Dr. James Holt, AKC's Legislative Liaison to address this body.

Dr. Holt: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and good afternoon, everyone. When I was originally scheduled to speak to you this afternoon, I planned to discuss Federal legislation affecting dog breeders that would likely be introduced later in this Congress, but as everyone with a computer or a telephone now knows, on May 26th, 2005, the Pet Animal Welfare Statute of 2005, known as PAWS, was introduced in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.

Since then, what seems like million of words have already been written and spoken about PAWS. Unfortunately, some of it has been grossly inaccurate and some of it purposely distorted. Some of you may already have made up your minds about this legislation based on this misinformation. I want to talk to you today about this — what this legislation is, how it came to be, and why we're supporting it and continue to be involved as the process moves forward.

I hope you'll listen to me with an open mind, read the materials that we've prepared for you, ask questions, and then make up your minds. And if you do, I believe you will conclude, as we have, that this legislation represents an important accomplishment for the AKC in two respects. First, it represents a complete reversal of position by its sponsors, who previously advocated legislation that we believed would have been harmful to purebred dogs and breeders, and which we opposed. Second, the PAWS makes important advances in the welfare of purebred dogs and in protections for the amateur dog fancy in the United States.

Now, to the substance of the bill. What are the major provisions of PAWS? PAWS amends the existing Federal Animal Welfare Act to further one of the major purposes of that act; namely, assuring the humane care and treatment of dogs and other animals by commercial dealers. Unlike the Puppy Protection Act, PAWS does not change the standards for breeding and care of animals in any way. It simply changes the definition of “dealer” to bring some persons under Federal regulation who sell dogs commercially that are not covered under current law, due largely to changes in pet marketing technologies that have occurred in the 30 years since the current law was written. It also strengthens the USDA's ability to enforce the law, something which we all agree is desperately needed. Unlike the Puppy Protection Act, it does this in ways that are fair and reasonable and without creating mechanisms for harassing persons merely because they breed dogs.

The changes to the “dealer” definition have attracted almost all of the attention, but let me describe its other provisions first, because they're extremely important and have been almost totally ignored in the hub bub about the dealer provision. There are three provisions which will significantly strengthen the Department of Agriculture's ability to deal more effectively with problem breeding establishments or as we often hear them referred to as “puppy mills” and to reduce evasion of the law. These provisions will benefit all hobby and show breeders, they'll benefit the AKC, and they'll benefit the majority of commercial breeders who do abide by the law. First, the Secretary of Agriculture will have the authority to examine the source records at retail pet stores to determine from whom they acquire puppies so that the USDA can more effectively identify persons breeding dogs for resale who are evading licensing requirements.

Evasion of licensing is a big problem. By some estimates, there may be as many breeders evading the licensing requirements of the current law as there are licensed dealers. Second, the bill extends the authority of the Secretary of Agriculture to suspend the licenses of dealers who are violating the law from the current statutory maximum of 21 days, which is a meaningless suspension, to a maximum of 60 days, but only if the violation is such as to seriously endanger the health of animals. In other words, we're not talking here about record-keeping violations or administrative procedures. Third, the bill will allow the Secretary of Agriculture to go to court directly to seek temporary restraining orders and injunctions against dealers who violate the act, rather than having to convince overworked U.S. Attorneys to do it on the USDA's behalf. The current reality is that U.S. Attorneys are too busy with more important crimes than violations of the Animal Welfare Act. As a result, they rarely prosecute violators. And persons who simply refuse to obtain a license or continue to operate after their license is suspended or revoked can do it with impunity. All three of these provisions were first suggested by the AKC as alternatives to the Puppy Protection Act. All three have now been adopted by the bill's sponsors instead of the Puppy Protection Act.

Now, let me explain the changes to the dealer provisions that are made by the PAWS. Persons covered by the Federal Animal Welfare Act who sell dogs or other animals are called quote “dealers”. Persons defined as “dealers” are required to be licensed by the USDA and to comply with the USDA's standards for record-keeping and for humane care and treatment of dogs. Under current law, all persons, all persons who breed and sell dogs for research, teaching, exhibition, a term that does not include dog shows, by the way, hunting, breeding, security, or for use as pets are defined under the act as “dealers” except “retail pet stores”. There is no exemption in current law for hobby and show breeders. However, the USDA has by regulation interpreted the term “retail pet store” to include all persons who sell dogs directly to consumers, including persons who sell puppies out of their own homes, such as us, versus those who sell dogs over the Internet and so forth.

When the current dealer definition was enacted in the 1970s, breeders who sold only to consumers were mostly small hobby and show breeders, because as a practical matter, you couldn't breed and sell very many puppies without resorting to selling at least some of them to wholesale brokers or pet stores, and thus, become a dealer. Furthermore, importing puppies for resale was nearly unheard of. But times have changed. There are now a large and growing number of operations breeding large numbers of puppies and selling them at retail directly to consumers over the Internet and through mass marketing advertising channels. Because these breeding operations sell puppies only at retail directly to consumers, they are exempt from regulation because of the Retail Pet Store Exemption and its expansive interpretation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Some of the recent spectacular media exposes of “puppy mills” have been these types of unregulated commercial operations selling directly at retail. In addition, there has been an explosion of operations importing puppies for direct retail sale. And many of these operations are pretty horrible operations. Yet, they are outside the reach of current law because of the broad interpretation of the Retail Pet Store Exemption.

The sponsors of PAWS were determined to address this problem and bring these operations under regulation. At the same time, they were committed to continuing to exempt real, retail pet stores and to exempt small hobby and show breeders who sell directly at retail to consumers.

We felt that we could no longer credibly argue that the best way to exclude hobby and show breeders from regulation was to exclude all retail sellers of dogs. We felt that regulation of some retail sellers was needed in order to address the problems that our own fanciers were complaining of and what we knew existed. The problem, of course, was how to define the persons who should remain exempt. The bill's sponsors proposed regulating as “dealers” everyone who sold more than 25 dogs in a year, period, end of statement. We objected to this as unfair to the breeders of large breeds. We also expressed our deep concern about defining small hobby and show breeders based simply on numbers. However, at the end of the day, neither we, nor the bill's sponsors could come up with an alternative definition that was legally workable, excluded most hobby and show breeders, and did not have loopholes that would continue to allow the kinds of operations to evade regulation that we agreed needed to be regulated.

The bill's sponsors accepted our argument that defining “dealers” based exclusively on the number of dogs sold was not appropriate and added a litter exemption based on the AKC's own definition of high-volume breeder. They also agreed to include the term — in the term “dealer” persons who imported dogs for resale. We felt that the resulting definition struck a fair balance between bringing real commercial operations under regulation, while still protecting the amateur sport of purebred dogs from regulation.

In the bill as introduced, persons who sell dogs at wholesale or retail are “dealers”, unless, A, they do not sell more than 25 dogs per year, or B, they sell only dogs bred and raised on their own premises and do not whelp more than 6 litters per year. Both criteria apply to breeders who sell dogs bred or raised on their own premises. Therefore, the toy breeder who raises 11 litters but only sells 24 puppies is not a dealer. And similarly, the Irish Setter breeder who has 4 litters and sells 40 puppies is not a dealer.

We would have preferred a non-quantitative criteria. And we recognize the risks in agreeing to support a quantitative measure, but in the end, it was clear that some quantitative measure was going to be used. And we could either try to get the best measure we could or have one imposed on us. The AKC's own definition of high-volume breeder and our criteria for mandatory kennel inspections were the criteria that finally were adopted by the legislatures to define “dealers” in this legislation. It's important to understand that this definition covers fewer than 4 percent of all breeders who register litters with the AKC. And that 4 percent includes all of those breeders who register litters with us who are already covered under the current law.

What does it mean to be classified as a dealer? It means that the person has to obtain a license from the Department of Agriculture, have their kennel facilities inspected, and comply with the USDA's record-keeping requirements and animal care standards. Since the kennels that are currently regulated tend to be large, commercial operations, the USDA's current animal care standards were written for that environment. If the PAWS is enacted, the USDA will have to write additional regulations appropriate to those that are newly brought under coverage. We know this is possible, because we do it ourselves. It is likely that the AKC's own Care and Conditions Standards, in fact, will serve as a model for the USDA in preparing and implementing regulations. As a participant in the legislative process, the AKC will be in a position to offer input and guidance in the writing of these regulations. We have also suggested to the sponsors of the legislation the inclusion of language that would authorize the Secretary of Agriculture to certify the inspection programs and standards of non-governmental organizations that have experience and expertise in kennel inspections. If such a provision is included in the final bill and if the AKC chooses to participate in such a program, it could mean that persons could choose to be inspected by the AKC in lieu of Federal inspection and avoid duplicate inspections. Whether such language is included in the final bill, we will determine as the process moves forward.

PAWS is not the HSUS' bill, it's not the Doris Day Animal League's bill, it's not the AKC's bill, or anyone else's bill except that of the legislatures who introduced and sponsored it, Senators Santorum of Pennsylvania and Durbin of Illinois in the Senate and Representatives Gerlach of Pennsylvania and Farr of California in the House. We had numerous discussions with the staffs of the sponsors about the issues addressed in this bill, going all the way back to the battle over the Puppy Protection Act in 2001, but we did not sit down with the HSUS or the DDAL to negotiate or write this bill. In fact, we had only one contact with these so-called animal protection groups. And that occurred only a few days before the bill was introduced. At that meeting, the sponsors told us and them what they were going to introduce. The fact is, however, that the major provisions of this bill, other than the dealer amendment, are the very provisions the AKC suggested as an alternative to the Puppy Protection Act four years ago.

And the dealer provision addresses problems of importers and Internet sellers that we're very concerned about and defines breeders exactly in the same criteria for high-volume breeders and mandatory inspections that the AKC uses.

Having said that, this is not a perfect bill. The perfect piece of legislation has yet to be written.

There are issues that have already come to light. And I'm sure that others will emerge as the debate over this bill proceeds that will need to be addressed as the bill moves toward final passage. That is how the legislative process works. By working with the sponsors of this legislation, the AKC will be able to continue t influence its contents in positive ways, as well as to protect against adverse changes. We do not expect that changes will be made in this legislation that will make it unacceptable to the AKC and the purebred dog fancy, but if that happens, we will not hesitate to withdraw our support and actively oppose the bill.

Equally important, after this bill is enacted, regulations will have to be written to implement it.

The regulations are arguably as important as the statutory language, because the regulations govern how the bill will actually work in practice. By working with the bill's sponsors, we have been able to influence this legislation very profoundly. By being inside the tent, we also will be in a position to have the maximum possible influence over the implementing regulations. This is a process that will take several years. We're only at the first step of that process now.

Recognizing that, one of my new-found e-mail buddies said I can't believe the AKC would buy such a “pig in a poke”. That, of course, is a completely naive view of how the public policy process works. The idea that because we do not know exactly how it will all turn out, we should refuse to be a part of the process is absurd. By opposing this legislation, we can, at best, accomplish a single outcome. And that is defeat of the bill. That will do nothing to solve the real problems this bill is meant to address, problems that we ourselves recognize and have argued should be addressed. However, in this case, we made the judgment that legislation would very likely pass, with or without our support. We might have — what might have been introduced and enacted had we not been involved could have had a genuinely negative impact on our sport and on purebred dogs. We made the considered decision that this legislation addressed important issues for the sport of purebred dogs and that we should be in the tent making it the best possible bill we could. In my view, we have so far succeeded beyond any reasonable expectation in that regard.

You've heard it said and certainly this morning emphasized that this is not your father's AKC. Well, this is also not your father's purebred dog world. Thank you. I've been doing a lot of talking in the last 24 hours. This is not your father's purebred dog world either. There are now 24 other registries out there, in addition to the AKC, all but one of them for-profit operations. Collectively, they register more dogs than the AKC does. The impetus for starting many of these registries and the motivation for many of those who use them now was to avoid the mandatory AKC inspection program and care and conditions standards. Think about the implications of that for a moment. Think about what's going on out there in those operations.

Some of my new-found e-mail buddies have said it ain't broke. So don't fix it. Well, folks, it is broke. We know that the enforcement tools of the USDA are inaccurate. And we are regularly reminded of that on TV and in the press. We know that there are breeding and broker operations out there evading all regulations through the retail exemption. And we're regularly reminded of that on TV and in the press and by the horror stories we hear from the customers of those operations. We know that what was only a few years ago a trickle of imported puppies for resale is now a river. And when China gets into the trade, and they will get into the trade, it could become a flood. If you don't believe this, talk to the breed clubs and rescue organizations that are desperately trying to stay ahead of this problem or the people who have bought these sick imported puppies with fraudulent papers. We know this. Many of you know this. The Department of Agriculture knows this. And many legislatures know this. The sport of purebred dogs in the United States and the small amateur breeder who support that sport could easily become engulfed in this changing world. The AKC is trying to get out in front of this changing world in many ways, including our involvement in the public policy process.

Involvement in public policy involves opportunities, challenges, risks, and responsibilities. For more than 100 years of the AKC's existence, we were not involved in public policy issues.

If we had been players in the Federal legislative process in the 1970s, there's no question in my mind that the Federal Animal Welfare Act would be a far different piece of legislation than it is today. I am quite certain, among others, that we would not now be relying on being classified as retail pet stores to conduct our sport free from Federal regulation. Fortunately, we have awakened to the challenge facing us before it is too late.

My friends, this is a time for leadership. Of course, leadership means opposing bad legislation that will harm the sport of purebred dogs and further the agenda of those who want to fundamentally alter or even end man's relationship with animals. In many respects, opposing legislation is the easy job, but leadership also means working to develop and support good legislation that protects and advances the sport of purebred dogs and their humane care and treatment. That's a much harder job, because it means imposing discipline on ourselves, as well as others. And leadership means accepting the responsibility to understand when and what to oppose and support and have the courage to act on that understanding. Leadership means evaluating legislation based on what it says and what it does, not on who else is for it or against it. That is what we did with this legislation. We believe this legislation is good for purebred dogs and we believe that with our continued active participation, it can be made even better. We ask all of you and all of the members of your clubs to join and support us in this process, because it is after all for our dogs. Thank you.

Mr. Sprung: Thank you, Jim.

— Click here for more information about PAWS —

–Monday June, 13 AKC Delegate Meeting, Chicago…