Should the USDA Regulate Animal Shelters and Rescue Groups?

In April, The Washington Post ran a story saying that 86 “rescue and advocacy groups” had been purchasing dogs and puppies at auctions.  The Post reported that since 2009, these groups have spent $2.68 million buying 5,761 dogs.  Needless to say, this story created a fury within the pet community and raised such questions as:

  • “What? Are there not enough dogs that need new forever homes available that these groups needed to purchase some to re-home?”
  • “Wait a minute, aren’t these groups the ones who argue “Adopt, Don’t Shop” when it comes to pets?”
  • “Maybe $2.68 million isn’t enough money to support all the homeless pets around, but it sure could buy a lot of dog food!” (Ok, that’s not a question).

Part of the reason these groups might have gone to auctions may be the success of the shelter system and the rescue groups themselves.  There are simply less commercial kennels in the United States than there used to be, there are less dogs in shelters, AND, more importantly, less shelter pets being euthanized.  This smaller population makes it harder for rescue groups (especially those dedicated to a specific breed) to find dogs in shelters (unless your rescue group happens to focus on Pit Bulls or Chihuahuas, as there are always plenty of those in shelters).
In response to the Washington Post’s story, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a bulletin that led with the following:

Are you an individual, business, or non-profit organization that buys, sells, adopts or transports dogs? If so, you may need to obtain a USDA license or registration so our inspectors can ensure you are humanely caring, treating, handling, and transporting your animals according to the regulations and standards outlined in the Animal Welfare Act.

The USDA bulletin caused a bit of a ruckus in the “for profit” pet world.  An editorial in Pet Business asserted “[t]he time has come to stop assuming that all rescue groups, shelters, and humane societies are inherently a positive in the life of pets.”  The editorial called for the regulation of rescue groups.

All of this got us thinking; does this mean our San Francisco City Shelter requires (or should require) a USDA permit?  How about the San Francisco SPCA?  How about the myriad of rescue groups that operate in San Francisco?  What about Pet Camp and the Pet Camp Express?

We think the answer is “no” for San Francisco Animal Care and Control, as USDA says that those “operating a pound or shelter (or a business under contract with a pound or shelter) under the jurisdiction of a state, county, municipality, township or city (including government -operated and government -contract shelters) do not require a USDA permit.”

Thankfully, USDA also says that Pet Camp doesn’t need a permit for the Pet Camp Express since the transportation is only to or from Pet Camp for day or overnight care.

We’re less confident about SF-SPCA and the rescue groups that operate here and elsewhere.  The USDA asserts that “compensation” in the Animal Welfare Act includes “adoption fees, donations, or any economic benefit related to the transfer of the animal.”  We have no idea if USDA means to include places like SF-SPCA or rescue groups under the Animal Welfare Act, but we are pretty certain that the editorial published in Pet Business clearly thinks that the time has come to regulate the not-for-profits involved in the pet world.

So, what do you think?  Should rescue groups and non-profits involved in animal rescue be regulated?