Senator Rick Santorum's (R-PA) Pet Animal Welfare Statute (PAWS), S. 1139, has undergone a dangerous transformation in the year since its introduction to Congress. Bowing to pressure from the commercial puppy mill industry, Senator Santorum has proposed a modified version of PAWS that would permit industry self-regulation of large-scale commercial breeders who sell dogs or cats directly to the public. While we support requiring these retail breeders to comply with the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), giving them the option of industry oversight instead of regulation by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets a dangerous precedent.
The USDA has nearly four decades of experience enforcing the AWA, and its inspectors are trained professionals. By requesting data through the Freedom of Information Act, the public is able to obtain inspection reports and monitor the job being done by the agency. However, if the pet industry is allowed to regulate any portion of its own dealers under the Act, this transparency will be lost, and files on individual licensees subject to industry oversight will not be available to the public.
Bias is inherent to systems that permit an industry to assess its own constituency. This is not just a theory; there are clear examples. The practice of industry-run accrediting bodies is just one, as facilities accredited by either the American Zoo and Aquarium Association or the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care have been cited by USDA inspectors for failure to meet AWA requirements. These bodies do not conduct routine, unannounced inspections the way that the agency does, and they have a broader mandate than remaining focused on compliance with the Act.