|Action||Promulgate regulation required by Chapter 1284 of the 2020 Acts of Assembly|
|Comment Period||Ends 12/23/2022|
Virginia, public and private animal shelters are held to high welfare standards. But pet stores in Virginia—for-profit businesses known to sell puppies from “high-volume breeders” (puppy mills)—are currently not subject to state inspections or oversight. Thanks to legislation passed by Virginia’s general assembly, a regulatory process is underway, and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), which regularly inspects the Commonwealth’s animal shelters, is taking public comments on proposed draft regulations for pet stores that sell dogs and cats. But as drafted, these regulations don’t afford animals meaningful protection.
Most pet stores that sell puppies obtain them from puppy mills, hellish mass-breeding facilities in which dogs are treated like puppy-producing machines. These animals are typically forced to live in cramped, squalid conditions with minimal veterinary care and human interaction. It’s not uncommon for puppies bought from pet shops to suffer from congenital conditions due to inbreeding or to be sick as a result of the substandard conditions they were born into, transported in, and subjected to at pet shops. Animal shelters in Virginia are legally required to engage a licensed veterinarian to develop protocols for sick animals in their care, but the proposed regulations include no such requirement.
If a VDACS inspector finds that an animal shelter has violated state law, the shelter faces civil penalties of up to $1,000 per day until the issue is corrected. These fines help ensure that any lapse in animal care standards will be quickly addressed. But civil penalties like these—and any other meaningful enforcement action—are notably absent from the proposed pet store regulations, meaning that pet stores have little incentive to comply.
Unless the punishment for failing to adhere to regulations involves a real threat to pet stores’ bottom line, they will simply disregard them. A PETA investigation found that multiple pet stores across Virginia had failed to comply with a sensible, easy-to-follow law requiring them to display a sign stating that U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection reports for the breeders whose puppies they sell are available to customers prior to purchase. Some pet stores refused or needed to be pressed to show customers the puppies’ paperwork, which they are required by law to provide.
I am asking that VDACS strengthen its proposed standards of care for pet shops.