VT’s New Law to Regulate Puppy Mills

VT puppy mill Vermont has enacted this year what are described as laws to regulate puppy and cat mills.

The new law otherwise amends 20 V.S.A. Sec. 3541 to add a new definition of “pet dealer”: any person who sells or exchanges or who offers to sell or exchange cats, dogs, or wolf-hybrids, or any combination of those, from 3 or more litters in any 12 month period. Pet shops, shelters and rescues are excluded.

The problem is that it can be very difficult for inspectors to determine the numbers of litters born each year. The threshold number is low enough, though, that it should be easier than under the old law to determine if someone should be called a “pet dealer” and so subject to regulation.

The new law also amends 20 V.S.A. Sec. 3681 to require municipal clerks to issue permits for all pet dealers, not just for wolf hybrids as provided previously. Pet dealers must allow inspections at any time. The law no longer limits inspections to any “reasonable time”; per dealers would use the reasonableness requirement to delay inspections. On the other hand, the inspections are to be scheduled in advance. The pet dealer’s agent must be present. No surprise visits that may reveal the actual practices at the pet dealer’s operations.

Curiously, no photos or video can be taken during an inspection without the pet dealer’s permission!

There is no penalty for failure to cooperate with an inspection except that the new law provides “[r]epeated failure to consent to an inspection may result in a revocation of the pet dealer permit”.

An inspector can, but is not obligated to, report animal cruelty or neglect for criminal investigation. The inspectors, employees of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Markets, can only issue citations which can be the bases for civil administrative penalties.

Copies of the inspection reports are available from the municipality that issued the pet dealer permit.

The new law also amends the state puppy lemon law. Consumers have certain remedies if within 7 days of the sale of a cat, dog or wolf-hybrid by a pet dealer or pet shop a veterinarian certifies the animal is “unfit for purchase due to illness” or has signs of a contagious or infections disease, or if within one year a veterinarian certifies the animal has a congenital malformation or hereditary disease. The consumer can return the animal for a full refund and the veterinary fee but only for obtaining the certification. Veterinary fees for treating the animal are not included. A finding of parasites is not sufficient.

If the pet dealer or pet shop agrees, the consumer can alternatively, return the animal for an exchange, an animal of equivalent value, and the cost of the veterinary certification. Again, the bills incurred in treating the animal are not recoverable, only the fee related to obtaining the certification.

A third alternative also only available if the pet dealer or pet shop owner agrees, would allow recovery for reasonable veterinary service for the purpose of curing or attempting to cure the animal. It is not clear if this would include bills incurred for diagnosis. Regardless, this amount is limited to the purchase price of the animal. The cost of the certification in this instance is not recoverable.

Consumers are to be provided with a copy of the form the Dept. will issue for the certification.

Pet dealers or pet shops may contest a consumer demand for reimbursement, refund or exchange by having a veterinarian of its choice examine the animal. If the parties cannot reach an agreement within 10 days of this examination, the consumer may initiate suit.