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The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources has announced that new regulations have been finalized for the operation of animal shelters and animal rescue organizations, together with clarifying amendments to the Commonwealth’s regulations applying to pet shops.   The American Kennel Club (AKC) extends our sincerest gratitude to the Department’s Animal Health Division Director for years of work in formulating a necessary and reasonable regulatory package and to Governor Baker for making promulgation a priority.   AKC Government Relations (GR) commends and congratulates the successful grassroots advocacy efforts of its Massachusetts kennel club members who contacted the Governor’s office over the past year.  Special thanks are noted to the Massachusetts Federation of Dog Clubs for hosting its 2019 annual meeting on this topic.

Since first requiring state registration by animal rescues and shelters in 2005 when an estimated 70 organizations were engaged in these activities, the Department’s hearing officer report states that more than 400 organizations have now registered with the Department.  Over 150 of them import animals from out of state or out of the country. This has resulted in the Department responding to complaints and reports of diseased or dangerous animals being adopted out; and illustrated the need to hold these organizations to minimum standards to better ensure that both animal health and public safety are protected.

The regulatory proposal was met with fierce opposition from animal rescues and shelters at the April 23, 2019 public hearing.  Among the many objections, organizations requested the waiver or reduction of the $100 annual licensing fee; removal of the record keeping requirements; and elimination of the requirement to provide veterinary care cost estimates for treating or maintaining an animal with a medical condition.  To review a summary of comments received and how the Department responded, the hearing officer report is publicly available here.

The new regulations, referred to as 330 CMR 30.00, can be read here.

The new regulations provide definitions and standards relating to the importation, handling, and care of animals in the custody of non-profit organizations whose primary activity is the placement of abandoned, displaced, unwanted, neglected, or abused animals that do not obtain dogs or cats from a breeder or broker for payment or compensation.  The regulations require:

  • All organizations to be licensed by the Department. Licenses must be renewed annually. There is a licensing fee of $100.
  • Organization-operated facilities (brick-and-mortar shelters, not foster homes) to maintain basic sanitary conditions, and must have a separate quarantine room where sick animals can be held separate from the healthy population.
  • Core vaccines for dogs and cats to be provided (Distemper/Parvo for dogs, Panleukopenia/Calici for cats). Proof of at least one vaccine is required before importation.
  • Dogs over six months of age to have a negative heartworm test.
  • Animals’ behaviors to be observed and documented. Behavior observations must be disclosed to prospective adopters. Animals with behavior issues that may pose a safety risk must be addressed prior to placement.
  • People providing foster care for an organization to only do so under a written agreement.
  • All dogs and cats to be examined by a veterinarian and deemed healthy prior to placement (health certificates can be valid for up to six months, provided the animal remains healthy).
  • Prior to placement, disclosure to prospective adopters that an animal has certain medical conditions or behavior concerns.
  • That adopters may return animals for a full refund of the adoption fee if a medical condition or behavior issue that was not disclosed is discovered by a veterinarian within 14 days of placement.
  • Organizations that handle only animals originating in Massachusetts to maintain records of the animals they take in and place.

The clarifying amendments for pet shops in Massachusetts:

  • Require pet shops to be licensed by the Department based on the type of animals sold.
  • Clarify that pet shops that engage in import/export activities other than obtaining animals from a breeder or broker or that otherwise acts as a Rescue Organization shall comply with all applicable provisions of the new regulations for shelters, rescues, and importers.
  • Prohibit pet shops from being located in a residential dwelling.
  • Impose inspection, maintenance, sanitation, health, illumination, quarantine, isolation, biosecurity, primary enclosure size, ventilation, environmental, construction, and enclosure requirements.
  • Mandate animal care requirements, including feeding and watering, staffing, veterinary care, and identification of the animals.
  • Require pet shops to maintain records for two years.

Because of the public health concerns that are increasingly presented by interstate dog trafficking that supplies retail animal welfare organizations, AKC supports policies, such as these final regulations, that provide reasonable oversight.  Those who support adoption of the regulatory package can express appreciation by email to or by mail to Michael Cahill, Animal Health Director, 251 Causeway Street, Suite 500, Boston, MA 02114.

For more information, contact AKC’s Government Relations Department at