The owner of a kennel in Lower Oxford where the Chester County SPCA recently seized 335 dogs had lost his state kennel license in recent years and had been suspended and fined by the American Kennel Club (AKC).
But his operation did not come under the jurisdiction of a federal statute to protect animals - a fact that AKC officials say is a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act - and one that they would like to rectify.
When the Animal Welfare Act was passed 30 years ago, the buying and selling of dogs through the Internet was not something that was envisioned.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Animal Welfare Act regulates people who buy or sell dogs on a commercial basis, requiring them to obtain a license and comply with all regulations, including inspections.
But retail stores are exempt, and according to the AKC, the USDA has an expansive interpretation of a retail store.
Consequently, breeders and importers who sell all of their puppies directly at retail currently fall outside any federal regulation regardless of the volume of activity, the AKC said.
A new bill, the Pet Animal Welfare Statute (PAWS), was introduced last spring by U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-6th, of West Pikeland, and U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa.
Under PAWS, large-volume breeders, who sell directly to individuals or through the Internet, would be required to have a USDA license.
Small breeders, which are people who sell less than 25 dogs a year or have six or fewer litters a year, would be exempt from the licensing requirements.
Gerlach said he was optimistic that the bill would advance through the House of Representatives.
"To date, I've gathered 141 bipartisan co-sponsors and am currently working to have the House Committee on Agriculture bring the bill up for debate," Gerlach said. "As we've seen recently in Chester County, the issue of puppy mills is not one that we can ignore. I'm thankful to have the support from groups like the American Kennel Club and the Humane Society of the United States in highlighting this problem."
The AKC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of purebred dogs and maintains the largest registry of purebred dogs in the world.
Michael Wolf's kennel in the 1700 block of Old Baltimore Pike was raided by the SPCA Feb. 10, and 335 dogs were removed after the SPCA alleged that the animals were living in unsanitary conditions.
Wolf has been charged with 335 counts of animal cruelty for unsanitary conditions. Gordon Trottier, a breeder of papillons at the same location, has been charged with 65 counts of animal cruelty for unsanitary conditions.
According to AKC records, Wolf and Trottier were designated "high-volume breeders" in 2004.
Between 2002 and 2004, Wolf registered 94 litters with the AKC.
In order for a dog to be registered purebred with AKC, the litter must be registered and the purebred mother and father of the litter identified.
High-volume breeders are routinely inspected through DNA testing to make sure that the thoroughbred heritage of the puppies is confirmed.
Wolf was suspended for six months and fined following a DNA test that showed he had faulty record keeping. After he was reinstated, Wolf only registered three litters.
"This is a pattern we see all too often," Menaker said. "Breeders stop registering with us in order to avoid inspection after we take disciplinary action against them."
Wolf lost his kennel license from the state Bureau of Dog Law about five years ago, said Rick Burd, director of enforcement at the Bureau.
State regulations require that anyone with 26 or more dogs in a given year must have a kennel license. The kennels are inspected at least once a year by a state dog warden.
"He went out of business at that location (Old Baltimore Pike)," Burd said. "He couldn't maintain conditions as required by law."
Wolf referred all calls to his attorney.