Va. animal activists call bill ‘critical’ after USDA removes animal-welfare inspection reports from website

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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - A bill that passed the Senate unanimously, and now heads to a house sub-committee, is aimed at preventing the sale of puppy mill puppies in pet stores.

"This is not just about protecting our companion animals, this is about protecting consumers and tax payers," says Kara Moran.

Moran spearheaded a city ordinance, passed last year, for city enforcement of a state law that prohibits pet stores from selling puppies that come from breeders with one direct infraction or three indirect infractions of the Animal Welfare Act.

Senate Bill 1204 would take that further, giving every city and town in Virginia the option to make an ordinance to enforce how pet stores get their puppies that is more strict that the state laws.

"It is solely permissive and it just gives localities the opportunity to decide for themselves," says Moran.

"A lot of these people, they buy a sick puppy, not knowing what they're supporting, what they're getting. Once they realize they can't afford the animals anymore, it ends up in our shelters. It's a huge circle that we can break."

She argues that the legislation also comes at a pivotal time.

Last week, the USDA removed their animal welfare inspection reports from their websites, which was the way that animal control could enforce the state law, and make sure pet stores' puppies are not coming from breeders with infractions.

It was also the only way the public can check on specific breeders to see how they treat their animals.

"A lot of these people, they buy a sick puppy, not knowing what they`re supporting, what they`re getting, now because of this website going down we don't have any laws that we can enforce in the entire commonwealth that will protect our consumers from purchasing a sick puppy," says Moran.

The USDA posted a lengthy statement on the website, saying in part:

 "In 2016, well before the change of Administration, APHIS decided to make adjustments to the posting of regulatory records. In addition, APHIS is currently involved in litigation concerning, among other issues, information posted on the agency’s website. While the agency is vigorously defending against this litigation, in an abundance of caution, the agency is taking additional measures to protect individual privacy. These decisions are not final. Adjustments may be made regarding information appropriate for release and posting."

Moran argues that SB 1204 will be a way that localities can still make sure their pet stores are getting their puppies responsibly, even though they won't have the information from the USDA.

Opponents fear it will put local breeders and pet stores out of business, but supporters of the bill, like the Virginia Beach SPCA, say as long as pet stores are getting their puppies responsibly, it will not affect them.

"It's really a consumer rights issue," says Dia DuVernet, CEO of the VBSPCA. "That is, in terms of consumers being able to know that they are getting pets that are raised in good conditions."

DuVernet says their Pet Supplies and Adoption Center, in Kempsville, which sells dogs and cats that were rescued, says 700 animals were adopted out of the store in 2016.

"I think we've proven that you can have successful pet stores without puppies that are sourced from puppy mills."