Puppy Mill Update: A New Trend for Dog Breeders and Dealers?

February 17, 2023

Puppy in cage

On February 14, 2023, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service published its annual summary of the enforcement actions taken against those who aren’t in compliance with the Animal Welfare Act (AWA)—the only federal law protecting dogs in commercial breeding and dealing facilities.

An analysis of their report shows a new trend for dog breeders and dealers.

According to the USDA’s data, from 2014 to 2020, the number of dog dealer violations recorded by the agency was on the decline. But in 2022, the number of documented dog dealer violations more than doubled, just as it did in 2021.

At first glance, the increase in documented violations may seem like a bad thing—but it could be the first sign of positive change.

The USDA has always had a business-friendly relationship with dog dealers, so it does its best to help dealers avoid consequences by enacting policies that minimize documentation of violations. These egregious policies include Teachable Moments (“minor” noncompliances would not count as a violation), Courtesy Visits (a licensee can request an inspection, and any noncompliances found would not be documented), and the Veterinary Care Rule (inspectors will not report “minor veterinary issues” at all).

All these policies contribute to the previous decline in documented violations, but the fact that there has been a continuous increase in 2021 and 2022 may be the first step toward the USDA holding cruel dog breeders and dealers accountable.

Recent events may be the reason for this shift. The high-profile Daniel Gingerich case resulted in the introduction of a new bill in Congress, Goldie’s Act, which was named after a Golden Retriever who died from neglect in Gingerich’s breeding facility. The bill would require the USDA to enact better inspections of licensed breeding facilities, lifesaving intervention for suffering animals, meaningful penalties for violations, and timely communication with local law enforcement in circumstances of suspected cruelty and neglect.

Another factor in the increase of documented violations may be removal of Teachable Moments from USDA inspections after Congress ordered the agency to end this ineffective program and on the heels of a lawsuit the ASPCA filed against the USDA in 2021 for failure to enforce the Animal Welfare Act.

The result from the FY23 Federal Appropriation Bill will hopefully continue this trend of documentation. For the first time, this bill includes language requiring USDA inspectors to record all violations they observe at regulated facilities on inspection reports. It even directs the agency to reform its current licensing and enforcement procedures to better protect animals and uphold the law.

While the increase in documented violations is encouraging, there is still a great amount of work to do. The violations may be better documented, but there is no change in the USDA’s enforcement policies for dog dealers—the agency still actively avoids holding licensees who repeatedly violate the AWA accountable. With over 3,000 documented violations across more than 13,000 licensed and regulated animal entities in 2022, the USDA filed only five formal complaints and reached only 17 settlements. For licensed dog dealers alone, over 800 violations were documented, but no animals were confiscated, no dog dealer business licenses were suspended, and no penalties were imposed through a settlement.

To learn more about the lack of enforcement from the USDA, check out our full report here. We also expect Goldie’s Act to be reintroduced in the coming weeks and urge you to ask your members of Congress for their support here to take the next crucial step in protecting dogs in commercial and breeding facilities.