What the new APHIS rule means to pet buyers

If you're a pet buyer and you're on this page, you have already decided that your family is right for a pedigreed cat. We feel it's very important that pet buyers understand the importance of that choice. If your family has no specific needs, you can of course choose a shelter pet, and that's a wonderful choice. Or, if your family simply desires a pedigreed animal, you can choose that as well. Some families choose to do both. There isn't, or shouldn't be, a value judgement along with that choice.

Recently the USDA altered their rules regarding home hobby breeders, and what they are saying is it an attempt to protect animal welfare. In truth, all they are doing is tying up the small, home-based hobby breeder in cumbersome and frankly difficult to understand rules. The only option left to home breeders, to avoid license requirements by the USDA, is to have a face to face meeting with you, your breeder, and the animal you are buying, adding a significant cost burden. They feel this "face to face" transaction will improve animal welfare, as you will have the chance as the consumer to reject the animal if you perceive something wrong.

That probably sounds good, and you're probably wondering why anyone wouldn't *want* to be licensed by the USDA. Wouldn't that make you a *more* reputable breeder? 

Well, no. It means only that you're willing to undertake steps to dramatically change your breeding program. If you breed like I do, in my home, your animals are in your home, including your bedroom. That means we have to allow federal investigators into every last inch of our homes for multiple inspections. They are also allowed to bring agents from other agencies - we don't have to be told who they are, or why they are present, but if we refuse these unnamed agents entry, we will begin to be fined as it is in violation of the licensing rule. They also are *required* to publish your location, a physical home address, that is available to anyone on earth who makes a Freedom of Information Act request to the government. I'm sure you've heard about enough "raids" to "free" animals from mink farms and whatnot, to know there are folks who think all breeders are bad and all animals deserve "freedom" - and they won't hesitate to "free" your animals into your neighborhood, if they know where you live. This says nothing as well about providing a road map to thieves looking to find breeders' homes; there are some who stage break-ins to steal animals that can then be sold for a pretty penny with little effort.

Like everything else in America right now, this is a terribly and unnecessarily polarized issue. We have in one group animal rights extremists who are militant about a vegan agenda where having a pet is tantamount to slavery. (I promise you, I'm not making that up.) Then we have a number of breeders, who feel they should be left alone on their property at all costs, no matter what condition they're raising animals in. Most of us are in the middle. We have a small number of animals; we produce only a few litters a year, if that; we aren't affiliated with pet shops; we only sell pets from our homes to yours. We aren't the ones doing wrong - but we are the ones now under the gun due to biases of the first group, over the actions of the second.

Most of us also run responsible genetic programs, meaning we bring in animals from other breeders to outcross and keep animals healthy (I'm sure you know the dangers of inbreeding). The USDA originally allowed home hobby breeders an exemption to this rule if we have 4 or fewer females. However, in just the last two weeks of November, that exemption has been snatched back. Now, if you were relying on that 4 female exemption, and you use another breeder's animal, one not born and raised in your home, and you *ever* place that animal as a pet after retiring it from your program - you lose the 4 female exemption. (Sadly, the need for a license due to the "not born and raised on your premises" issue has already caused some rescues to begin to fold - of course almost no animal is "born and raised" on a rescue's premises.) 

To explain this better I'll give you a personal example - I work with fewer than 4 females as a general rule. That makes my program so small that the USDA doesn't care about it. However, I just placed a pet cat, age 7, who I purchased from an overseas breeder for my program and who has lived with me for more than 6 years. By placing her in a pet home, because she was not born in my home, I automatically lose my ability to claim the 4 or fewer female exemption and would now require a license. Even if I had only 1 female, I have still waived this exemption, because she spent the first six months of her life, seven years ago, in another home. I cannot come up with any explanation based on the supposed purpose of the rule, to claw back this provision or to target someone in my situation with a USDA license. 

But all that aside, what does this mean to you, the buyer?

The only option left to home hobby breeders to remain exempt from licensing, is to deliver every pet with a face to face meeting. Unlike puppies, there's no way to come and visit the kittens at 6 weeks of age for later delivery. Kittens are a bit more vulnerable and don't complete vaccination schedules until they're usually 12 or 16 weeks old, and only after that is delivery scheduled. But because there are so few (for example) Turkish Angora breeders in the US, the likelihood of you living close enough to have this "face to face" meeting in a way that's cost conscious isn't always possible. In the past, I have successfully shipped pets, and have a 0% return rate of shipped cats. Now, I must fly with the animal to you myself. 

In essence, if you don't live near a breeder of the breed of cat your family wants, you now need to prepare to pay upwards of $500 in additional costs to accommodate this face to face meeting at delivery.

Our hands are tied in this. If I were independently wealthy, as some people think all breeders are, I'd be happy to deliver for free...but as most hobby breeders will tell you, we are not flush with cash. We usually spend far more than we bring in, and we simply cannot afford to take on the full cost of delivery. The USDA, by withdrawing a reasonable exception to allow us to continue to run genetically responsible programs, have said, you either license, or do only in-person delivery. I value my safety and security in my home, as well as the health of my animals, who don't need someone who has visited other animal facilities from farms to commercial breeders to who knows what, to come through my home and expose my animals to potentially dangerous infectious disease. Like many breeders, I'm also a woman who is alone much of the time, and my personal safety should count for something as well.

If you're ok with adding a plane fare to the cost of your kitten, great. If you're upset by this, which is a restriction on allowing your family to choose and purchase the animal that is right for your family, by making it cost prohibitive - please, by all means contact your Congressmen and -women and tell them to reign in the USDA APHIS Animal Welfare group and suspend enforcement of this rule immediately, until a more reasonable rule can be drafted.