Animal Care September 2013
Retail Pet Store
Q: What is the Animal Welfare Act?
A: Passed by Congress in 1966, the Animal Welfare
Act (AWA) sets general standards for humane care
and treatment that must be provided for certain
animals that are bred for commercial sale, exhibited
to the public, used in biomedical research, or
transported commercially. The AWA does not apply
to coldblooded animals or to farm animals used or
exhibited for agricultural purposes. People licensed
under the AWA must provide their animals with
adequate housing, sanitation, nutrition, water, and
veterinary care. They must also protect their
animals from extreme weather and temperatures.
Q: Why are you changing the defi nition of a
retail pet store in the regulations written to
support enforcement of the AWA?
A: Over the years, APHIS has received increasing
complaints from the public about the lack of
monitoring and oversight of the health and humane
treatment of dogs and other pets sold sight
unseen—often over the Internet. Our primary goal
is to ensure that certain people who sell pets at
retail sight unseen are regulated under the AWA, so
that these animals can be monitored by our Agency
for their health and humane treatment. To do that,
we revised the defi nition of “retail pet store” in our
regulations to bring the animals involved in these
“sight unseen” transactions under regulation so that
they receive basic standards of care. We also
provided greater regulatory latitude for certain types
of small breeding operations consistent with this
Q: How many comments did you receive on the
A: The proposed rule to amend the defi nition of a
retail pet store was published on May 16, 2012, and
included a 60-day public comment period. At the
request of stakeholders, the comment period was
extended an additional 30 days and closed on
August 15, 2012. During the 90-day comment
period, we received more than 210,000 comments:
75,584 individual comments and 134,420 signed form
letters. We also received 213,000 signatures on
petitions submitted by organizations supporting or
opposing the proposed rule. We reviewed every
comment we received and, based on stakeholder
feedback, we made a number of changes to the fi nal
BASICS OF FINAL RULE
Q: Under the final rule, what is the new definition
of a retail pet store?
A: In the final rule, “retail pet store” means a place of
business or residence at which the seller, buyer, and
the animal available for sale are physically present so
that every buyer may personally observe the animal
prior to purchasing and/or taking custody of it after
purchase. By personally observing the animal, the
buyer is exercising public oversight over the animal
and in this way is helping to ensure its health and
humane treatment. Retailers who sell their pet
animals to customers in face-to-face transactions do
not have to obtain an AWA license because their
animals are subject to such public oversight.
Under the AWA regulations, a “retail pet store” is
also a place where only the following animals are
sold or offered for sale as pets: dogs, cats, rabbits,
guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, rats, mice, gophers,
chinchillas, domestic ferrets, domestic farm animals,
birds, and coldblooded species. It is important to
note, however, that APHIS does not regulate
domestic farm animals used for food and fi ber, or
Q: Why did APHIS revise the definition of a retail
A: This fulfi lls a commitment APHIS first made in
response to an Office of Inspector General (OIG)
audit recommendation. The OIG audit found that
more than 80 percent of sampled breeders were not
licensed under the AWA because they sold pets over
the Internet and claimed “retail pet store” status. As a
result, the OIG found that these breeders were not
being monitored or inspected to ensure their animals’
overall health and humane treatment, which led to
some buyers receiving unhealthy pets—especially
dogs. In its 2010 report, the OIG recommended that
such operations should not enjoy “retail pet store”
status, and the resulting exemption from consumer
oversight and APHIS inspection. This final rule
achieves what the OIG suggested. It also fulfi lls
APHIS’ commitment made in response to a “We the
People” petition to the White House.
The previous regulatory definition of “retail pet
store” was developed more than 40 years ago. It was
meant to include traditional pet stores, hobby
breeders, and other retail businesses where customers
could personally observe an animal for sale prior to
purchasing and/or taking custody of it. Such
establishments were not regulated under the AWA
because it was assumed that customers were
providing public oversight simply by being able
observe the animals prior to purchasing or taking
custody of them. By revising the definition of “retail
pet store” to require retailers engaging in sight-unseen
sales to be regulated, we are bringing more pet
animals sold at retail under the protection of the AWA.
We are also ensuring that the defi nition of “retail pet
store” within our regulations is consistent with the
Q: How will the final rule affect traditional retail
A: The final rule will not affect traditional retail pet
stores. These “brick and mortar” stores will continue
to be exempt from Federal licensing and inspection
under the AWA just as they have been. However,
traditional retail pet stores that also sell animals sight
unseen must be licensed and inspected.
Q: Why is it important for a buyer to observe an
animal personally before taking custody of it?
A: Personal observation of an animal is an important
way that a buyer can evaluate the health and humane
treatment of the animal. This requirement is implicit in
the AWA itself and was implicit in the original definition
of “retail pet store” in our regulations; the final rule
makes it explicit.
Q: Do sellers who breed pets at their residences
have to allow buyers into their homes in order to
be considered a retail pet store?
A: No. The regulation allows for sales to take place at
any location agreed upon by the seller and the buyer.
This could be a home but it could also be another
mutually agreeable location.
Q: If a person cannot personally observe an
animal before buying it, can someone else stand
A: Yes. Some commenters to our proposed rule noted
that it would be difficult for certain people—for
instance, foreign, disabled, or elderly customers—to
personally observe the animals they wish to buy. We
consider the buyer of a pet animal sold at retail to be
the person who takes custody of the animal after
purchase, even if this person is not the ultimate owner
of the animal. This person cannot, however, be a
commercial transporter or intermediate handler.
RESCUE GROUPS AND POUNDS
Q: How will the final rule affect rescue groups that
participate in off-site adoption events?
A: People who engage in face-to-face transactions at
a place other than their premises, which include offsite
adoption events, are considered to be subject to
public oversight. As a result, they do not need to
obtain a license.
Q: What does the final rule mean for State, county,
or city owned and operated pounds, and shelters,
as well as humane societies and other
organizations that operate under a contract with
A: The final rule has no effect on these entities.
These agencies and organizations are not regulated
under the AWA as long as all of their activities are
under the jurisdiction of the municipality, township, city,
county, or state and do not fall under APHIS
Q: Does this fi nal rule bring working dogs sold at
retail under regulation?
A: Working dogs are generally understood to be dogs
that are not sold for use as pets but for purposes such
as hunting, breeding, and security. Dogs sold at retail
for these purposes do not come under regulation
under the AWA.
Q: Will APHIS require working dog breeders to be
regulated if they occasionally sell an animal as a
pet that has proved unsuitable as a working dog
due to birth defects, poor temperament, or other
A: Individuals who intend to breed and sell dogs at
retail as working dogs may occasionally raise a dog
that lacks the characteristics that would enable it to be
sold or used for its intended working purpose. As long
as the individual originally intended to raise and sell
the dog at retail for that purpose and the individual
continues to market his or her dogs for that purpose,
the individual could sell the individual dog at retail
without needing to be regulated by APHIS.
RABBIT, FARM ANIMALS, AND COLDBLOODED
Q: How does the final rule affect rabbit breeders
who raise rabbits for food, fur, or preservation of
A: The fi nal rule does not change our regulation of
breeders who sell rabbits or other animals for use as
food or fiber (including fur). Anyone selling animals
only for food or fi ber is exempt under the AWA. People
selling rabbits at retail for breeding purposes (such as
preservation of bloodlines) are not regulated.
Q: Will children who raise rabbits as part of a 4-H
project have to be licensed under the final rule?
A: No. 4-H participants who sell their rabbits for food or
fi ber (including fur) or in face-to-face transactions at
county fairs, rabbit shows, and other agricultural
exhibitions do not have to be licensed.
Q: What will this rule mean for domestic farm
animals and coldblooded species?
A: As is the case for rabbits, normal farm-type
operations that raise, buy, and sell animals only for food
and fiber (including fur)—as well as businesses that
deal only with fish and other coldblooded animals—are
exempt from regulation.
Q: Why are you now allowing people to keep up to
four breeding females without having to be
licensed under the AWA?
A: Under our previous regulations, we considered
breeders who owned up to three breeding females
(dogs, cats, or small exotic or wild mammals) to be
hobby breeders, who provide sufficient care to their
animals without our oversight. Based on a recent
review of compliance among facilities we regulate, we
believe that even with the addition of another breeding
female, these hobby breeders are likely to conform to
minimum AWA standards. Hobby breeders should
remain aware, however, that they are exempt from AWA
regulation only if they sell the offspring of animals born
and raised on their premises for pets or exhibition.
They may sell these animals at retail or wholesale
without being regulated.
Q: How will the four-breeding-females rule apply to
breeders with a partial ownership interest in a
number of breeding animals?
A: Partial ownership of breeding females is a standard
practice among small-scale residential breeders.
Owners (even if they only partially own the animals)
with four or fewer breeding females on one premises
do not need to be licensed by APHIS.
Q: Under the final rule, what constitutes a breeding
A: Only female animals with the capacity to breed are
considered “breeding females.” Females that an APHIS
inspector decides cannot breed due to age, infi rmity,
illness, or other issues are not considered “breeding
EFFECTS ON BREEDERS
Q: How many breeders will be affected by this
rule? How did you come up with these fi gures?
A: We estimate that between 2,600 and 4,640 dog
breeders, about 325 cat breeders, and no more than 75
rabbit breeders will be affected by the rule. This
represents a portion of the breeders we identified
through online breeder registries and by assuming that
there are some additional dog breeders using remote
marketing methods not included in those registries.
This does not include breeders who will not be affected
by the rule because they do not sell pets, because they
don’t have more than four breeding females, or
because they sell pets face-to-face. Since a very small
percentage of cats in the United States are purebred
and raised by breeders—and even fewer appear to be
marketed over the Internet—we assumed the number
of affected cat breeders would be a small portion of
those we identifi ed. Similarly, it is uncommon for rabbit
breeders to sell offspring as pets or sight unseen;
generally, rabbits are sold face-to-face at auctions,
exhibits, and fairs where buyers are physically present.
The rule will also affect some currently licensed
wholesale breeders. Expanding the licensing
exemption from three to four breeding females could
reduce the number of wholesale licensees. We expect
that the number of current licensees that will fall below
the exemption threshold following the implementation of
this rule will be very small.
Q: How will USDA identify breeders who may need
to be regulated?
A: APHIS will use various methods to access publiclyavailable
information to identify and inform those
individuals who may need an AWA commercial
breeding license. These methods include evaluating
customer complaints against breeders and Internet
retailers, as well as reviewing the marketing and
promotional materials of breeders and Internet retailers.
In addition, we will review public information available
online to identify sellers that potentially meet the
definition of commercial breeder in the AWA. By
viewing publicly available information, APHIS can
educate individuals about the AWA, and if needed,
assist them with obtaining licenses. This will ensure
that all animals that should be covered by the AWA will
receive humane care and treatment.
Q: What is the timeline for compliance?
A: We plan to incorporate newly affected entities into
our existing regulatory structure using a phased
implementation for conducting initial prelicensing
inspections and compliance inspections. Factors we
would consider when determining when and how
frequently such inspections would take place include
but are not limited to: 1) whether an entity has applied
for a USDA license; 2) whether an entity is already
subject to some degree of State, county, or local
oversight, and the nature of that oversight; and
3) whether an entity is the subject of a legitimate
complaint and the nature or severity of that complaint.
We will conduct periodic compliance inspections based
on a risk-based inspection system that calculates the
level of risk of noncompliance.
Q: What will newly regulated breeders need to do
to come into compliance with this fi nal rule?
A: Commenters on the proposed rule expressed
concern about the adjustments newly regulated
breeders would need to make and the possible costs
they would incur. We believe, however, that the vast
majority of breeders affected by the rule already
maintain standards of housing, cleanliness, and care
that well exceed minimum AWA standards. Therefore,
these newly regulated but otherwise compliant breeders
will incur minimal costs only for licensing, identifi cation
tags, and recordkeeping.
Q: How much will it cost for newly regulated
breeders for licensing, identifi cation tags, and
A: For a typical dog breeder with 6 breeding females
and a total of 74 dogs on the property over the course
of a year, we estimate that the typical annual cost for
licensing, identifi cation tags, and recordkeeping would
be between about $284 to $550 or from about $4 to
$7.50 per dog.
Q: What will the costs be for newly regulated
breeders who need to upgrade their facilities or
change their facilities to comply?
A: We recognize some breeders will need to upgrade
their facilities and/or change their operations to meet
the basic AWA standards of care. We acknowledge
that, in some cases, these upgrades and changes will
cost them more than the minimal costs of licensing,
identifi cation tags, and recordkeeping. However, such
facility and structural improvements should be one-time
investments in their operations. Again, we believe that
the vast majority of breeders affected by the rule
already maintain standards of housing, cleanliness,
and care that well exceed minimum AWA standards.
Q: Did APHIS revise its analysis of how many
breeders would be regulated?
A: Based on input from commenters, we were able to
revise and strengthen our analysis of the number of
businesses that would come under regulation and the
likely fi nancial impacts for them. Compared with our
analysis in the proposed rule, we do expect more
breeders will come under regulation. However, we
believe the costs for the majority of those breeders will
be relatively low, and only for licensing, identification
tags, and recordkeeping.
Q: Will consumers pay more for pets as a result of
the final rule?
A: We believe that even if breeders’ total costs of
compliance are passed on to buyers, they will generally
be negligible, in keeping with our analysis above.
Further, costs previously borne by some consumers
may now be borne by producers. For example,
breeders who previously provided inadequate
veterinary care or skipped vaccinations for their
animals will now bear those costs.
Q: Won’t the costs for residential breeders lead
them to stop breeding their animals?
A: The cost of a license is highly unlikely to cause
affected breeders to change their normal business
operations. Even at the highest end of the range—an
estimated $760 for a breeder with gross revenues in
excess of $200,000—the cost of a license is less than
the sale price of many purebred dogs. The majority of
the breeders that may be affected by this rule already
meet facility standards and should incur few other
Q: Will regulated breeders who keep their dogs in
their homes have to put them in a kennel?
A: Generally not. The AWA regulations define a
“primary enclosure” to mean any structure or device
used to restrict animals to a limited amount of space—
which means that a home can be considered a dog’s
primary enclosure. If a room of a house is used as a
dog’s primary enclosure (for instance, a whelping room
or nursery), AWA regulations and standards apply to
However, if a dog breeder allows his or her dogs to
have free run of the entire house, we have to determine
whether the home can house the animals within AWA
standards. If the breeder has a kennel or cages that
the dogs can stay in inside the home that meet AWA
standards, the breeder has satisfied the primary
enclosure requirements. A number of currently licensed
wholesale breeders maintain their animals in their
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Q: Why are you removing limits on the source of
gross income from the licensing exemption for
people who breed certain species and derive no
more than $500 in annual sales?
A: This change gives breeders of rabbits, guinea
pigs, and certain other animals the ability to sell
those animals at retail (subject to the $500 annual
gross income limit written into the AWA) and still
remain exempt from AWA licensing and inspection
Q: Why isn’t the $500 limit on gross income sales
being adjusted for inflation?
A: A number of commenters said that given inflation,
the $500 limit on gross income sales is too low; others
said it was too high. However, this limit on gross
income is set in the AWA itself, not in our regulations.
Therefore, APHIS is unable to make any changes to
Q: Will APHIS monitor the implementation of this
A: APHIS seeks to protect these animals while also
implementing the rule effectively and fairly. We
will carefully monitor these efforts and are open to