Mandatory canine health checks to impact Wisconsin veterinarians

New rule aimed at 'breeder farm' puppies takes effect June 1

May 5, 2011 (published)
Dave DeKok

Dr. Steve Erickson expects to see 10 to 15 puppies a month with health certificates mandated by Wisconsin Act 90. Photo courtesy of All Pets Veterinary Clinic in Middleton, Wis.

A law that requires health checks for most dogs sold in Wisconsin takes effect next month and stands to impact nearly every veterinarian in the state who has canine patients.

Wisconsin Act 90, also known as the Wisconsin Dog Seller's Licensing and Inspection Program, is intended to protect dogs and the people who purchase them. The law requires that dogs be examined by a veterinarian before they are sold or adopted and prohibits the sale of puppies younger than seven weeks. It applies to anyone selling or sheltering 25 or more dogs a year, with a few exceptions.

In addition, the law requires licensing and inspection for some dog selling/adopting operations, which previously had little regulation. Operations that will need licenses, issued by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection are:

  • dog breeders or breeding facilities selling at least 25 dogs a year from at least three litters;
  • dog dealers selling at least 25 dogs a year in Wisconsin, even if the dealer lives in a different state;
  • non-profit animal facilities that shelter at least 25 dogs a year, such as humane societies, rescue groups, and other animal shelter and welfare groups; and
  • animal control facilities that contract with a city, village, town or county.

Anyone who sells, shelters or adopts out fewer than 25 dogs a year is exempt from the law. Sporting-dog trainers, boarding facilities and pet owners are included in the exemption, regardless of how many dogs are in their care.

“I do think (the law) is a positive thing,” said Dr. Doug Kratt, a former president of the Wisconsin Veterinary Medicine Association (WVMA) who practices in Onalaska, Wis. He represented veterinarians and the WVMA on a committee that advised state officials on the provisions Wisconsin Act 90. “As with any change, there is anxiety about it."

To ease that anxiety, at least from a veterinarian's perspective, the WVMA plans to host four informational meetings on Wisconsin Act 90 throughout the state, starting Monday at the Plaza Hotel in Eau Claire.

Veterinarians may wonder if the fact that they keep dogs for treatment or do occasional weekend boarding of dogs puts them in the “regulated” category.

“No, not if they’re just boarding them for customers,” said Donna Gilson, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Affairs. “And the law specifically exempts veterinarians keeping dogs for veterinary care.”

Prior to the passage of Wisconsin Act 90, the state was one of the last in the country with no regulation of dog breeders and sellers. Whether they're called "puppy mills" or "breeding farms," the state had little ability to go after bad actors in the industry. Gilson recalled the example of one breeder with a particularly negative reputation in the 1960s who was not brought to justice until 1991 because the state did not have legal means to go after him.

“There was nothing,” Gilson said. “A few breeders were licensed by the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) if they sold to stores. Humane laws applied, but they were hard to enforce, and it was up to local sheriffs to do the enforcement. We have a reputation for puppy mills. We were somewhat of a magnet for bad breeders because we were unregulated.”

It took 10 years of contentious negotiations among the various interested parties to come up with regulations that a majority could live with. Kratt said getting everyone to the table to discuss their differences took a long time. “The shelters were opposed at one point, the breeders at another,” he said. Wisconsin Act 90 was passed in 2009, giving stakeholders more than a year to draw up the law's parameters.

In addition to the state inspection and licensing required for breeding and housing facilities, the new rules call for a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection, or CVI. Starting June 1, CVIs will need to accompany every dog sold or transferred by fee-based adoption when the seller falls into a regulated category.

A veterinarian must certify that the dog has been personally inspected “and that they are not showing any sign of infectious, contagious, and/or communicable disease,” the law states. Vaccinations and test results must be noted on the certificate, and a record of the examination findings, such as a heart murmur for example, must be attached. The aim is to spare dog buyers from acquiring an ill animal.

“We feel requiring an inspection and CVI will not only benefit the health of the dogs inspected, but will help protect the health and well-being of the individuals and families purchasing these animals,” said Dr. Steve Erickson, president of the WVMA.

The WVMA issued a statement April 26 endorsing the new regulations, saying they are the first batch of rules to come out of the decade-long negotiations that were workable and sustainable over the long term for everyone involved in dog breeding or sheltering.

“Our goal was to ensure that the subsequent rules would be based on industry best practices and sound science,” Erickson said. “Veterinarians were uniquely qualified to bring this critical perspective to the rule-making process.”

He said the WVMA hopes the new rules will encourage more breeders and pet owners to seek proper veterinary care for their animals and provide opportunities for veterinarians and animal owners to “cultivate new relationships.”

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