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PAWS bill has claws out for pet breeders

Walt Hutchens

Hutchens lives in Lexington and breeds timbreblue whippets.

Wayne Pacelle, president of what is called the "Humane Society of the United States" -- although it operates no animal shelters -- would have more credibility in protesting the cloning of a pet dog ("The problem with cloning Fido," Aug. 9) on humane grounds if his organization was not at this moment doing its utmost to make impossible the careful breeding of dogs, cats and just about every other common pet.

Quietly awaiting the end of the August recess in the agriculture committees of Congress are twin versions of a Humane Society-promoted bill with the beguiling name of the "Pet Animal Welfare Statute of 2005," or PAWS for short. Claimed to be needed to combat a tidal wave of deceptive selling of imported dogs (although there are no more than a few reports of such selling and the bill contains no meaningful import control provisions), the real effect would be to federalize essentially all breeding of small pets.

Under the current federal Animal Welfare Act, anyone who breeds and sells small animals only at retail is exempt from federal licensing. This exemption was and is justified because retail sellers are necessarily smaller-scale than those who use middlemen, and they are "inspected" by their customers, who can (and do) report them to animal authorities if conditions are unclean or abusive.

PAWS would eliminate the retail exemption, replacing it with a licensing threshold of 25 animals sold per year for most breeders of dogs and cats and a $500 total annual sales volume for other species. Because most other species have chiefly been bred on a very small scale, sold retail-only or, in the case of birds, are unregulated while rules are being written, this would have the effect of requiring all but the smallest breeders of pets to get a federal license.

To get a U.S. Department of Agriculture license you must have farm-type breeding facilities, with waterproof surfaces, food preparation spaces separate from those used to prepare human food, a contract veterinarian who supervises care of your animals and much, much more. In essence, becoming USDA-licensed ends the possibility of breeding in your home and of breeding small pets as a hobby or "pin money" business.

To achieve the end of home-bred pets, the Humane Society's brainchild bill would spend millions of tax dollars writing regulations for about a dozen species and hiring enough new inspectors to handle a more than tenfold expansion of the workload. When the regulations go into effect, perhaps three years from now, the lawful home breeding of purebred cats and the more expensive species of birds would end immediately. Because the licensing requirement is based on selling (not breeding), organized home-based rescue of dogs and cats would also end.

Purebred dogs would take longer to phase down and out because they're often home-bred at a scale that would fit within the limit of 25 sold. However, indirect effects and the expected future lowering of the limits (the Humane Society calls PAWS "a good first step") would be fatal to the lawful home breeding of dogs within the following five years.

PAWS is sponsored in the Senate by Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who has in the past promoted other Humane Society anti-animal bills. The bill wouldn't have much of a chance except that it also has the support of a suddenly brain-dead American Kennel Club. Because the decision didn't go through normal corporate processes, there probably aren't 10 people alive who know exactly what's behind the AKC's backing of an anti-breeding bill. The most plausible explanation seems to be that they hope to pick up more purebred dog registrations from newly licensed commercial breeding farms than they lose due to show and hobby fanciers quitting breeding. They may also hope that the overextended USDA will give them a contract to do inspections.

Needless to say, its surprise backing of PAWS is the most contentious issue the AKC has faced in decades, with clubs representing more than half of dogs registered having already adopted formal statements of opposition. The drama is likely to play out over the next couple of years.

PAWS, however, will probably pass or fail between the second week of September and when Congress adjourns a few weeks later. If you'd like to keep the federal government out of the small-scale breeding and rescue of pets, contact Sens. John Warner and George Allen and tell them to vote no on PAWS, S.1139. Tell your representative to vote no on H.R. 2669.

Pacelle's opposition to pet cloning comes in fact from his organization's anti-animal views. He stated it most clearly in 1993: "One generation and out. We have no problems with the extinction of domestic animals."

He no longer says such things in public, and the society would never admit that PAWS is intended as another step toward the ending of pet ownership. But thoughtful Americans watching where the society spends its money -- lobbyists pushing bills like PAWS are in nearly every state capital as well as Washington -- are figuring out the true goal.

"You should not examine legislation in the light of the benefits it
will convey if properly administered, but in the light of the wrongs it
would do and the harm it would cause if improperly administered."
Lyndon Johnson, 36th President of the U.S.

Signed: Miriam Dalfen
Edited to sign post.

[ August 28, 2005, 01:28 PM: Message edited by: Betsy Iole ]
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