This week, Congressmen Charlie Crist (D-FL) and Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA) introduced the Petfax Act (H.R. 5715), legislation designed to bring more transparency to the condition of pets being sold by sellers and breeders.

The term “Petfax,” which appears to be a take on the trademarked name and service “Carfax” that aids automobile buyers in providing a vehicle’s history, such as ownership, accidents, and repairs, is described as mandating “honesty and transparency in the commercial sale of dogs and cats.” The legislation is the third in a series of “anti-puppy mill” bills introduced in this Congress. The divisive term “puppy mill” has been used as to refer to dogs bred in large-scale, commercial dog breeding operations.

In a press release, Crist stated: “welcoming a new pet into your home is a decision rooted in love. Pet owners deserve the peace of mind that their new family member wasn’t abused or mistreated by a breeder or seller.” The mandated reports, which would require sellers of dogs and cats to disclose certain information about an animal to a customer, includes:

  • Identification of the dealer who bred the animal;
  • the number of dogs bred and sold by the dealer within the past two years;
  • a listing of violations (of the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act) the dealer had within the past two years;
  • health information about the animal (including whether a veterinarian was seen);
  • vaccination administration; and
  • congenital disease

In addition to providing information to a buyer, the law would make it illegal for a seller, such as a pet store, to misrepresent whether the animal came from a large-scale breeder. The legislation does not apply to public animal shelters or nonprofit shelters, except where an organization paid for an animal in question and the seller made a profit.

Some states already mandate that sellers of certain pets provide medical information or proof that an animal for sale has been examined by a veterinarian. Twenty-two states have “lemon laws” that provide legal recourse to people who purchase animals from pet sellers that are later found to have a contagious or infections disease or congenital defect. Other states, such as Maryland and California, ban retail pet stores from selling puppies and kittens (with exceptions for offering rescued animals). Prior to its pet store ban, Maryland already had strict regulations in place that required stores to disclose information about breeders, including those with past USDA violations.

Proponents of pet sale bans have long-blamed the USDA’s removal of inspection reports from its public website as preventing pet buyers from having access to information about their history. But whether the practice of accessing the USDA’s website before buying a puppy and kitten was commonplace is debatable.

According to the American Veterinary Medicine Association’s website, over 48 million U.S. households own dogs and over 31 million own cats. (Citing 2012-2018 Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook). And pet industry resources state that pet ownership in the US is growing. Whether or not a “report” on an animal will truly have an effect on animal welfare or will ensure that an animal has not been mistreated at any time during its life remains to be seen. Responsible pet buyers have long been encouraged to do some diligence before purchasing a pet, including breed education, visiting the breeder and finding out the health history of the animal.