The French bulldog recently toppled the mighty Labrador retriever as the most popular dog breed in the United States. One huge irony about the ascendance of a new top dog is that misguided animal activists are hard at work trying to shut down responsible dog breeders so that the inevitable result will be more unhealthy dogs imported from countries that lack the welfare standards required of U.S. breeders.
At issue is a proposal recently re-introduced in the House of Representatives called the Puppy Protection Act, one of those fundamentally misnamed bills. It creates additional one-size-fits-all requirements for dog breeding, despite dogs being the most diverse species of land mammal and anything but one size fits all.
Its new requirements would over-regulate breeders, compromise innovation and best outcomes for some breeds, and reduce the availability of puppies from licensed breeders. The measure would push frustrated puppy buyers to internet scams, overseas imports and unregulated-sourced retail rescues.
Guidelines in the Puppy Protection Act may make good general practices, but they are worthless federal mandates. Here are some examples:
—Unfettered access to an outdoor exercise area. Allowing all dogs unfettered access to a play yard large enough for running strides can be unsafe and a logistical nightmare. Such a mandate does not consider canine behavior and biology. Some dogs don’t get along. Some might be in heat. Some yards might not be large enough to accommodate the mandate. “Unfettered” access can be irresponsible.
—Frequency of meals. Few would disagree that two meals a day are standard practice for canine care, with more for puppies and fewer for older dogs. But a federal law mandating two meals a day, instead of existing Animal Welfare Act requirements for sufficient and appropriate food, doesn’t advance the well-being of dogs, especially when not all dogs have the exact food requirements.
—Flooring. In some cases, solid flooring in a kennel is preferred. However, research by Purdue University and others find that dogs actually benefit from multiple types of flooring and recognizes the health and sanitation benefits of high-quality engineered slatted/perforated flooring. But the proposed legislation would mandate solid flooring only.
—Temperatures. A general prohibition of temperatures below 45 degrees or above 85 degrees makes sense for most, but not all. Northern breeds, such as Alaskan malamutes or Siberian huskies, prefer and can easily handle temperatures below freezing. Other dogs, especially newly born puppies, require temperatures significantly above 85 degrees. For their safety, dogs that hunt, sled, detect explosives or do other work must be acclimated to cooler or warmer temperatures. Again, the one-size-fits-all approach makes no sense.
Current Animal Welfare Act requirements for breeders already provide strong, performance-based outcomes that allow for flexibility for breeders and the breeds they choose.
The facts about responsible U.S. dog breeders tell a powerful story about animal welfare as their top priority. According to the USDA 2021 Impact Report, inspections by its Animal Care Division revealed that 96 percent of licensees and registrants were in substantial compliance with the Animal Welfare Act. This means that these breeders of dogs for commercial sale provide animals with humane care and treatment that meets government standards, including proper veterinary care, an appropriate diet, clean and structurally sound housing, proper ventilation and sanitation, and protection from extreme weather and temperatures.
The proposed law will incentivize U.S. breeders to do less breeding while turning the country into a magnet for foreign-bred animals, many of which are not bred responsibly. It is already a crapshoot whether imported dogs are carrying serious diseases. That’s because while importation laws require all dogs to have a health certificate, foreign paperwork is commonly invalid or forged, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The issue is particularly concerning because dogs from other countries are not subject to the health and welfare laws of the United States and may arrive carrying serious and infectious canine diseases.
Existing laws, and recent updates scheduled for implementation in October 2024, should be fully implemented and enforced before adding new layers of regulation that are harmful to dogs and difficult to enforce. The guiding principle must be that expert dog breeders should have the flexibility to care for their animals in the best and most appropriate manner to ensure each pet receives the care it needs and deserves.