Wayne Pacelle is the president and chief executive officer of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). This Op-Ed was adapted from one that appeared on the HSUS blog A Humane Nation. Pacelle contributed this Op-Ed to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced that other nations will no longer be able to flood the U.S. market with tens of thousands of dogs they raise in puppy mills. After delaying final action for years, the USDA has amended Animal Welfare Act regulations and put forth a final federal rule prohibiting the import of such puppies into the United States for resale.
In this era of globalization — with a robust trade in wildlife and their parts, pork and other animal products from factory farms , and the sale of fur pelts all over the world — this is a major moment in our global effort to make trade more humane and to prevent a handful of nations from watering down animal welfare standards in the name of free trade. In this case, it's our goal to choke off the trade in dogs from puppy mills, no matter where they originate.
Each year, thousands of puppies — all just a few weeks old and barely weaned — endure appalling abuse as they are transported to the United States. They are packed into crowded, filthy plastic tubs with little or no food or water, and often exposed to extreme temperatures during transcontinental plane journeys that would be taxing for even an adult, healthy dog. A large number of the puppies get sick, and then perish. The puppies are too young to have received a full series of vaccinations, so they could carry diseases that infect other dogs or even humans, making their import a significant public health concern as well as an animal welfare issue.
I have heard so many sad stories resulting from this indiscriminate import and sale of puppies. One example: A New Jersey couple purchased Otis, a bulldog puppy, from a Pennsylvania dealer. What they did not know at the time was that Otis had been imported from Russia when he was just six weeks old. Through his first few months, Otis suffered from numerous infections and genetic problems, including roundworms, coccidia, severe allergies, tremor, an enlarged heart and persistent drug-resistant pneumonia. He died before he was eight months old, leaving behind two heartbroken parents and thousands of dollars in veterinary bills.
Then there's Tink, a high-priced teacup Maltese puppy, sold to a New York resident by an Internet dealer in Texas. Tink was actually bred at a suspected puppy mill in Korea. By the time the buyer picked up Tink at a New York airport, she had endured several long flights, was covered in filth, and was lethargic, coughing and sneezing. Tink was luckier than Otis because she survived, but not before three emergency vet visits and more than $1,000 in veterinary fees.
These are just two of the hundreds of horror stories we have encountered here at The HSUS, but we are now hopeful that things will take a turn for the better. Under the USDA final rule, which goes into effect 90 days after its release, dogs cannot be imported for resale unless they are at least six months of age, in good health and have all necessary vaccinations.
This is a long-awaited victory for us at The HSUS and for our affiliated political arm, the Humane Society Legislative Fund. The decisive moment in this battle came six years ago when we succeeded in persuading Congress to add a provision to stop puppies bred in foreign puppy mills from being imported into the United States, as an amendment to the 2008 Farm Bill. Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who chaired the Senate Agriculture Committee, championed the language in the bill. The USDA did not issue a proposed rule until September 2011, and then it took three more years for the final announcement.
Despite our frustration with the delays, we acknowledge the USDA's action and celebrate it. We salute our supporters who kept pressing the case: more than 53,000 friends of The HSUS wrote to the USDA to encourage them to finalize the rule as quickly as possible. We are also grateful to other lawmakers who urged the USDA, time and again, to adopt the rule, including Senators Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and David Vitter, R-La., and Reps. Sam Farr, D-Calif., Jim Gerlach, R-Penn. and Dina Titus, D-Nev.
This is the second major announcement within the last year from the USDA to protect puppies. Last September, the department adopted a long-awaited rule that requires breeders who sell puppies and kittens sight-unseen, mainly over the Internet, to be federally licensed and inspected. That rule went into effect last November, and it is expected to potentially double the number of puppy mills nationwide that are regulated. Now, with this latest decision from the USDA, we know that sick puppies from foreign puppy mills will not be coming into the United States to take their place.
Dogs and their puppies are not breeding machines, nor cash crops. Our laws should reflect that sensibility, and with USDA's announcement, we've taken a major step as a nation to protect dogs from cruelty at home and abroad.
Pacelle's most recent Op-Ed was "Dog State vs. Cat State? Pets and Politics" The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This Op-Ed was adapted from "United States Moves to End Puppy Mill Imports" on the HSUS blog A Humane Nation. This version of the article was originally published on Live Science.