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Wisconsin Act 90:

Protecting Pets and People, From the Regulators' Viewpoint

rescued dog at adoption day

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An article by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) for Pet Journal, May 2012

Puppies like this one need us to make sure they get a safe, healthy, happy start to life.       Regulating dog sellers and shelters in Wisconsin is new, and like any other new thing, a little bewildering to some a little frightening to others. But it's based on a pretty old idea - that dogs deserve good care and people deserve good pets.

       The law is very straightforward. It requires licenses for some breeders and shelters, and clearly states which ones those are. If you do need a license, you need to provide:

  • Adequate food, water, shelter, and space
  • Adequate socialization and activity
  • Adequate veterinary care

       And you must:

  • Keep puppies with their mothers until they are 7 weeks old
  • Have a veterinarian examine dogs prior to sale or adoption

       All this is clearly laid out in detail on the DATCP website, Regardless of what you may read elsewhere online, this is the definitive information. And there is a great deal of that less- than- definitive information, which leads to misconceptions or mischaracterizations of Wisconsin Act 90.

Breeder dogs like this dobie are assured a better quality of life thanks to Act 90's licensing and inspection program.       One common misconception is exactly what the goal of the law is, and what DATCP's authority is. The law is intended to protect dogs and the people who buy them. But some say the goal was to put "puppy mills" out of business and expected that to happen the day the law took effect. There are three problems with that:

  • First, there is no legal definition for a puppy mill. Many believe that any large breeding operation automatically means bad conditions and unhealthy dogs that make bad pets. The truth is that large breeding operations can be well run and produce well- bred dogs, and small breeding operations can be hiding miserable conditions.

  • Second, regulations never apply only to the bad actors. If that were true, we would somehow know which dairy farms produce low- quality milk and license only those, or which food processors had unsanitary conditions and license only those plants. How do you know these things without licensing and inspecting everyone?

  • Third, no government agency can put anyone out of business instantly. There is always a process. There is always a right of appeal. Even though we can deny a license to an operation that clearly is substandard and is going to stay that way, we cannot physically shut it down. If the dogs need to be seized to protect them, we need local law enforcement to do that. We cannot file charges; we need to ask the district attorney to file charges saying that the person is operating without a license. And if the person is found guilty, he or she can appeal that decision all the way to the Supreme Court. That is what the constitution means when it says "due process."

       We always knew that the early applicants would be the easy ones. Now we are beginning to wade into the muddier waters of finding and licensing the hard cases. It's going to be a slow process.

       Some other misinformation that's been circulated:

  • Healthy, happy sheltie pup from a conscientious hobby breeder. "The law is stopping hobby breeders by making them install expensive facilities and pay for a license." The law does not affect the true hobbyist. It does not require a license for anyone selling fewer than 25 dogs a year, from three litters. Among the small breeders who do require a license, few have had a problem meeting the facility standards with little or no change. If they do require substantial change, we are giving them time to accomplish that as long as they meet the other standards and their dogs are safe.

  • "The certificate of veterinary inspection is difficult for the veterinarian to complete, does not allow him or her to truly evaluate the dog's health, and exposes the veterinarian to liability for unhealthy animals." Completing certificates of veterinary inspection, or CVI's, should be a familiar process to accredited veterinarians. Accredited veterinarians have an additional credential beyond their state license, which allows them to do regulatory work - such as completing CVI's required for transporting animals between states or internationally. The CVI's required by Act 90 are no different than other CVI's. They ask for basic information about the dog, such as breed or markings, age, and sex, and they mustinclude a statement that the animal shows no signs of infectious disease at the time of examination.

           There is absolutely nothing in the law to keep the veterinarian from noting other health problems on the certificate. In fact, you might argue that professional ethics demand it. It's true that some congenital conditions appear later, or that an animal exposed to infection might not be showing clinical signs yet. But again, if the veterinarian knows that a dog has been exposed, professional ethics would call for noting that, or better yet, advising that the dog be kept until it has cleared the incubation period. The law says explicitly that the CVI is not a guarantee, and the veterinarian is not liable for unhealthy dogs.

           It is true that this is a protection that consumers may not receive if they buy from a smaller, non- licensed breeder. This is why we always advise people to buy dogs only from breeders who allow them to see their facilities and meet the mother and, if possible, the father of the puppies. We also advise them to get in writing what will happen if they are not satisfied with the dog or it becomes ill soon after bringing it home. A wise consumer would also insist on a pre- sale veterinary exam and the breeder's written health guarantee.

  • Puppy looking for home at a recent pet adoption day."Consumers will think a breeder who is not licensed is a better breeder than one who is." This logic is exactly the opposite of what happens in reality. Breeders are using their licenses as a marketing tool. In fact, DATCP has had to ask some who were not licensed to remove that statement from their websites.

  • "This program costs taxpayers money." The program is entirely funded by the license fees set in statute by the Legislature. No money comes out of general taxpayer funds. The law is written so that, if fees don't support the costs of the program, DATCP must reduce costs or ask the legislature to raise fees.

       In conclusion, Act 90 is a law that came out of public concern over lack of protection for dogs and consumers. It is the product of 10 years of work by breeders, shelters, veterinarians, and consumers. Many of those who objected to it, and still object to it, are not required to be licensed. It is not a silver bullet; it will take time to be fully effective in reducing the number of bad breeders in the state.

       But it is a necessary step in the right direction. If you have questions, please feel free to call DATCP at 608-224-4872, or email

 pawprint bullet point   Act 90: What Happens During an Inspection?   pawprint bullet point

 pawprint bullet point   Act 90: DATCP Dog Sellers and Dog Facility Operators License List   pawprint bullet point

 pawprint bullet point   Act 90: The Good, the Bad, and the Ambiguous, by Monica Gardner, Waupaca Co. HS   pawprint bullet point

 pawprint bullet point   DATCP website: Dog Breeders & Sellers Law    pawprint bullet point

 pawprint bullet point   How to File a Complaint   pawprint bullet point

Dogs are counting on us to keep them safe.


Act 90/ATCP 16 Information:

 pawprint bullet point   Clearing Up the Confusion About WI's New Dog Seller/ Dealer/ Shelter Law   pawprint bullet point

 pawprint bullet point   ATCP 16: Who Needs a License, Inspections, and Record-Keeping   pawprint bullet point

 pawprint bullet point   Questions and Answers for Rescues/ Shelters   pawprint bullet point   Dog Seller and Shelter Form Links   pawprint bullet point

 pawprint bullet point   Certificates of Vet. Inspection/Age of Transfer   pawprint bullet point   Certificates of Vet. Inspection FAQ   pawprint bullet point

 pawprint bullet point   ATCP 16 Standards of Care (General)   pawprint bullet point   ATCP 16 Standards of Care, Indoor Facilities   pawprint bullet point

 pawprint bullet point   ATCP 16 Standards of Care, Outdoor Facilities   pawprint bullet point   Transporting Dogs   pawprint bullet point

pawprint bullet point    Act 90/ATCP 16: Facts for Consumers   pawprint bullet point

 pawprint bullet point   ATCP 16 Plain Language Factsheet (pdf)   pawprint bullet point   ATCP 16 Full Formal Language (pdf)   pawprint bullet point

 pawprint bullet point   2009 WISCONSIN ACT 90 (pdf)   pawprint bullet point   DATCP Dog Breeders & Sellers Law web pages

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