Gov. Peter Shumlin on Tuesday signed into law a pet protection act that is meant to tighten up and establish a clearer regulatory framework for dog, cat and wolf-hybrid breeders.
Architects of the law hope the regulations will prevent animal abuse cases, like the 50-plus-dog puppy mill that Karen Maple of Bakersfield was accused of running in 2011. Maple accepted a plea deal that sentenced her to two years of probation and barred her from breeding dogs.
“It was really trying to address things in current law that just didn’t make sense,” said Rep. John Bartholomew, D-Hartland, who introduced House bill 50.
Bartholomew, a former animal program director at the National Institutes of Health, said the bill has been in the works for more than a decade, as groups such as the Humane Society of the U.S., the Vermont Veterinary Medical Association and the Vermont Federation of Dog Clubs have sought to prevent inhumane treatment of pets by breeders.
The law defines a pet dealer as any person who sells, exchanges or offers to sell dogs, cats or wolf-hybrids from three or more litters. Pet dealers must pay an annual $25 permitting fee, up from $10 under current law. A municipal officer, law enforcement officer or Agency of Agriculture representative may inspect pet dealers. If the inspector wishes, a veterinarian or Humane Society agent may accompany him or her.
The bill also includes what’s known as a “pet lemon law.” If a dealer or shop sells a cat, dog or wolf-hybrid that has a severe health issue, the consumer has the right to return the pet, exchange the pet or receive a reimbursement from the pet dealer or shop for veterinary services.
Joanne Bourbeau is the Northeast regional director for the Humane Society of the U.S. One of the most important provisions in the Vermont law, she said, is one that closes a long-abused loophole.
“There was a loophole for a personal-use exemption that said if you have animals for personal use that you didn’t need to get the permit,” she said. “It’s mostly a home-based industry in this country, so commercial breeders could easily hide behind the issue that the kennels were in their homes, and they were their own personal dogs. Most of them were evading any sort of regulation at all, including inspection.”
Bourbeau says that since 2008, the Humane Society has ushered 33 similar laws in 25 states to strengthen pet breeding standards.
“Everyone will know what the playbook is, what the requirements are and conversely inspectors will know what they’re looking for,” she said about Vermont’s new law. “ It makes it very clear that if somebody is operating and selling that number of pets per year, they could lose their license and ability to sell if they don’t cooperate.”