Courts & Crime

Judge unleashes USDA’s rules for pet breeders who sell online

A federal judge has upheld the Agriculture Department’s new rules governing pet breeders who sell over the Internet.

In a pun-filled decision, U.S. District Judge Christopher R. Cooper rejected the challenge filed by an assortment of pet-breeding organizations. The ruling issued Friday keeps intact the rules imposed by the Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service.

“The new rule brought howls from small breeders anxious over the potential costs of regulatory oversight,” Cooper noted, adding that the breeders “seek to bring APHIS to heel, arguing that the agency exceeded its statutory authority in issuing the new rule. But the clubs are barking up the wrong tree.”

Groups such as the Associated Dog Clubs of New York State, the Chihuahua Club of America and the Miniature Australian Shepherd Club of America had contended the new rules burden innocent pet breeders.

Federal officials imposed the new rules in September 2013, after sifting through some 75,000 public comments. Businesses that sell pets “sight unseen” over the Internet or through other means must now be licensed and inspected. The rules cover any owner who maintains at least five breeding females.

The rules cover other types of pets as well, including gerbils, rats, chinchillas and snakes. The rules, Cooper noted, followed an investigation that “documented a pack of complaints by owners of sick or injured animals purchased from unregulated online sellers.”

“The clubs dispute APHIS’s assumptions of the costs that breeders will incur to construct new facilities,” Cooper wrote. “But the breeders’ bark seems bigger than the regulator’s bite. The impact of facilities costs on the overall industry of hobby breeders appears to be modest.”