The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has proposed a revision of regulations implementing the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to redefine "retail pet store," according to a press release from the Animal Agriculture Alliance. The proposed rule would expand the number and type of animal breeding and husbandry facilities requiring licensure, inspection, and recordkeeping under AWA.

“The rule has been brought to the Alliance's attention by members who believe it is poorly written and needs to be clarified or thrown out,” according to the press release.

While the rule appears to be focused on pet breeders, farmers and ranchers could also be impacted. As it is written, if a farmer or breeder sells even one animal as a "pet" in a situation where the buyer does not come to their home, farm or place of business, they must become USDA licensed. “A farmer selling an animal for purposes such as 4-H projects could potentially come under the impact of the rule,” according to the Alliance.

In addition to the requirement that dealers obtain a USDA license (with annual costs between $30 and $750), licensed dealers are also subject to regulatory requirements for standards of care and unannounced inspections by APHIS personnel. APHIS is authorized to seek civil monetary penalties for violations of animal care standards of up to $10,000 per day, per animal.

Under certain circumstances, APHIS may also seize animals or work with state and local authorities to seize animals. While livestock used for food production are not included in this rule, it potentially does present an opportunity for APHIS inspectors to gain access to agricultural operations, which is unprecedented. 

This regulation will affect anybody intending to bring home a pet. The animals included under this regulation consists of: dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, rats, mice, gophers, chinchilla, domestic ferrets, domestic farm animals, birds, and cold-blooded species. Also affected are: rescuers, foster homes, service animals, guide dogs for the blind, sportsmen, military dogs, and any other groups that “sell” animals.

According to the Alliance, farmers and ranchers should “educate themselves on the issue and take action.”

Comments on this proposed rule have been extended by USDA until Aug. 15.

Additional information and sample comments can be accessed online.

Read the Alliance's comments on the proposed rule.

Submit comments to USDA by Aug. 15 here.