If you ever plan on selling or giving away a dog or cat through a print or online classified ad, you might want to reconsider or at least be hypervigilant about checking out the dog’s potential new owner. Random source dealers, licensed "Class B" by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), troll these sites looking for animals to obtain cheaply and then sell at highly inflated prices to research facilities for experimentation. These shady characters exploit a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) that allows them to buy (or steal) dogs and cats from virtually anyone, as long as the "seller" states he or she bred and raised the animal (which is inherently impossible to prove).

The AWA, passed in 1966, was intended to stop the sale of family pets for experimentation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is charged with enforcement of the federal law. However, nearly 50 years later, illegally acquired dogs and cats continue to be bought and sold by Class B dealers. The animal victims tend to be hauled across at least one state line, making it nearly impossible for their families to find them. Dealer records are often incomplete or falsified to keep the true origin of the animals unknown.

Many dogs and cats suffer greatly at B dealers’ premises. The dealers have been cited for depriving animals of veterinary care, sufficient food, clean water, safe and sanitary cages, and protection from extremes of weather. Of the remaining six Class B dealers licensed to sell dogs and cats for research, three are under investigation for AWA violations documented during USDA inspections. Two who have closed still have cases pending against them; one of them faces federal charges including identity theft and money laundering.

According to the USDA, of the approximately 90,000 dogs and cats used for research each year, about 3,200 come from Class B dealers; the vast majority come from breeders (Class A dealers); and a small number come directly from municipal pounds. Many research facilities have adopted policies against the acquisition of random source dogs and cats from Class B dealers. A minority of facilities continue to use them and merely ignore the dealers' misdeeds.

In May 2009, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released a report entitled "Scientific and Humane Issues in the Use of Random Source Dogs and Cats in Research." At Congress's request, NAS assessed whether there is a scientific need for National Institutes of Health grant recipients to purchase dogs and cats from Class B dealers. The report concluded that there is not. Moreover, in response to Congressional concern, NIH has since advised its grant recipients that it is phasing out the practice.

In June, the Pet Safety and Protection Act was reintroduced in the U.S. Congress to amend the Animal Welfare Act to prohibit random-source Class B dealers from selling dogs and cats for use in experiments. The Animal Welfare Institute has set up a simple template that allows constituents to e-mail their Representatives asking them to cosponsor the legislation. Please take a minute and do so.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

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