To the Editor:
More than one of every five dogs and cats – totaling almost 17,000 statewide – taken in by New Jersey shelters year before last ended up dead.
And in its 2015 Animal Intake and Disposition report, the New Jersey Department of Health admits that because those numbers are from a voluntary survey of impoundment facilities, not all of which responded, the euthanasia rate was probably higher.
Meanwhile, many people who could’ve helped reduce those numbers by adopting from a shelter instead unknowingly helped perpetuate another ongoing tragedy by buying their pet from one of the state’s retail stores, many of whose animals are sourced from cruel and inhumane puppy and kitten mills.
As part of an investigation over the last two years, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) visited all 29 state stores that sell puppies. In its report, released last August, it revealed that many of these businesses sourced animals from puppy mills with Animal Welfare Act violations. Specifically, the report stated that:
“The research shows that pet stores in New Jersey are buying from dozens of breeders with documented Animal Welfare Act violations, including more than 50 facilities that have appeared in one or more of The HSUS’s
Horrible Hundred, an annual report on problem puppy mills.
“At several stores, HSUS researchers also found apparent violations of New Jersey’s Pet Purchase Protection Act (PPPA), which requires pet stores to post breeder information on puppies’ cages or enclosures and to purchase only from breeders who do not have certain recent, severe Animal Welfare Act violations. The HSUS found that many of the pet stores appeared to be violating the PPPA by either failing to post breeder information, or by purchasing from breeders with severe violations. Even among stores that did not appear to be violating the PPPA, researchers still found evidence that many of them had purchased from notorious puppy mills.”
State Senator Raymond Lesniak (district 20), is trying to improve the situation with bill S-63, designed to further protect animals for sale in New Jersey, as well as their potential owners. It would, among other things, expand regulations to include all “pet dealers,” defined as anyone who sells 10 or more dogs or cats in New Jersey in a year. All such people or businesses would be subject to the same licensing and reporting requirements that currently apply only to pet stores.
In addition, any dealer or pet store that is found to have sourced animals on three occasions from breeders who have violated animal welfare laws would be permanently banned from selling pets in New Jersey.
But the situation was thrown into chaos early last month when the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which is responsible for monitoring commercial breeders and enforcing the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), took the unannounced step of purging from its website all reports concerning animal welfare, including inspection reports, violations and even a list of licensees under the AWA, all of which New Jersey stores are required to rely on when purchasing animals and make available to the public when selling them. Without this information, the state’s PPPA is unenforceable.
This move by the USDA, which is being sued by several national animal welfare organizations, was nothing more than a political effort to protect animal cruelty, and it sparked Lesniak to propose an amendment to his bill (S-63) that would prohibit breeders and brokers from selling any animal required to be federally licensed in the state unless the USDA inspection reports for the breeder and broker are available to the public on the USDA’s website. If the USDA does not allow public access to these records, then the breeder or broker must submit the reports to the Division of Consumer Affairs, which shall post them on its website for public access.
Without any way to enforce the PPPA because of the USDA’s action, S-63, with its amendment, is now necessary to properly protect consumers who are no longer able to research a breeder selling puppies at their local pet store. This bill will also improve the sourcing standards and require online sellers, as well as pet stores, to adhere to these provisions.
Opponents to S-63 say existing law is strong enough to ensure that only healthy, happy animals are made available to New Jersey consumers. They’re right that there’s only one law – the Animal Welfare Act - to govern the care and housing of commercial dogs, and it sets down the barest standards for breeders. The AWA allows dogs to be kept their entire lives in crates inches bigger than their bodies. They can be denied social contact with other dogs, bred as many times as they enter heat, then killed and dumped in a ditch whenever their uterus shrivels.
Even before it removed all animal welfare reports from its website, the USDA was monitoring thousands of licensed breeders with inadequate staff and a budget, according to Rolling Stone magazine, so small the Defense Department spends the same amount every 25 minutes. Not surprisingly, enforcement of even the paltry existing law is lax. One report, a copy of which I have seen, simply admonished a breeder which has sold puppies to New Jersey pet stores not to euthanize its dogs by shooting them in the head. Descriptions of conditions at other licensed breeding facilities – all of which sell puppies to New Jersey pet stores – would either make your stomach turn or eyes well with tears, or likely, both.
Solving the puppy-mill problem will be an expensive and long-term struggle. It will require spreading consumer awareness of the conditions in the mills, and sustained political pressure on the stores and websites that sell pups. It will also require the continued efforts of people who have convinced over 100 towns in New Jersey to pass local ordinances prohibiting future pet stores within their jurisdictions from selling animals sourced from anywhere other than a rescue group or shelter.
Find out if your town is among them, and if not, ask your local government to pass one.
Union County Legislative Leader
Humane Society of the United States