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Clearing Up the Confusion About WI's New Dog Seller/ Dealer/ Shelter Law:
Dog Law Fact Sheet

Information and documents courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP)

This pup at Silver Lining Kennel seems to be saying, Get Me Out of Here!

What Is A Puppy Mill?   *   What Can I Do About It?   *   Laws/Legislation   *   ACTION ALERTS!


Little hound puppy in a WI puppy mill.       2009 WISCONSIN ACT 90 is the new law to protect dogs and the people who buy or adopt them. It requires some dog breeders and others involved in dog sales or adoptions to be licensed and inspected. It also requires that dogs be examined by a veterinarian before they are sold or adopted, and prohibits sale of puppies until they are 7 weeks old. This law took effect on June 1, 2011.

       Since the law was originally passed, a lot of confusion has arisen, especially among some dog breeders who will not need to be licensed at all. Let’s try to clear some of that up, keepng in mind the goals: humane treatment for dogs and fairness to consumers.

NOTE: This fact sheet replaces the previous outdated Fact Sheet for Potential Licensees and Fact Sheet for Consumers.


 pawprint bullet point   Who Must Be Licensed   pawprint bullet point   The Need for the Law   pawprint bullet point   Hobby Breeders   pawprint bullet point   Rescue groups

 pawprint bullet point   What the Standards of Care Require   pawprint bullet point

 pawprint bullet point   Makeup/ Role of the Advisory Committee   pawprint bullet point   The Process   pawprint bullet point   The Role of Public Opinion   pawprint bullet point

 pawprint bullet point   Enforcement   pawprint bullet point   Qualifications of inspectors   pawprint bullet point   Funding This Program   pawprint bullet point

 pawprint bullet point   Cost to Businesses   pawprint bullet point    Supply of dogs   pawprint bullet point   More Information   pawprint bullet point

 pawprint bullet point   Printer-friendly version, Clearing Up the Confusion About WI's New Dog Seller/ Dealer/ Shelter Law (pdf)   pawprint bullet point


Tiny blue paw print bullet point   Who Must Be Licensed

Outside runs at Silver Lining Kennels.       The law covers more than “puppy mills” because good breeders come in all sizes and so do bad breeders. All of these businesses and facilities are places where dogs could be mishandled and consumers could be misled.

       However, Wisconsin Act 90 is very specific. You’ll need a license only if you are a:

  • Dog breeder selling at least 25 dogs a year from at least 4 different litters

  • Dog breeding facility selling at least 25 dogs a year from at least 4 litters

  • Dog Dealer or retailer selling at least 25 dogs a year in WI.

  • Non-profit animal shelter sheltering at least 25 dogs a year

  • Animal control facility that contracts with a city, village, town or county

       You do not need a license under any other circumstances. There is no plan to extend the law to cover smaller breeders, sporting dog trainers, pet owners or others.

       The law covers more than “puppy mills” because good breeders come in all sizes and so do bad breeders. All of these businesses and facilities are places where dogs could be mishandled and consumers could be misled.




Tiny blue paw print bullet point   The Need for the Law

There were rows and rows of small cages...       Although there are relatively few animal abuse cases filed in Wisconsin courts against dog breeders selling only 25 dogs a year, the majority of the complaints from consumers and others to our department are about breeders of that size.

       Complaints most often do not translate into court cases. Law enforcement agencies and district attorneys are often reluctant to take on these cases, which are difficult to prosecute, especially in these times of limited public resources.




Tiny blue paw print bullet point   Hobby Breeders

  • Rosie, a titled Siberian Husky from Willo Siberians.People who are truly hobby breeders do not need to be licensed, because they do not sell enough dogs.

  • The intent of the law is not to regulate businesses for the sake of regulating them. The intent is to regulate activities in order to protect animals and consumers. Even if someone is selling more dogs as part of a “hobby,” those animals and the people who buy them need protection.

  • The suggestion that only very large breeders need regulation misses an important point: There are very good large breeders, and there are very bad small breeders. Neither is inherently good or bad.

  • Other laws apply to hobbyists: hobby deer farms must be licensed, hobby beekeepers’ hives are subject to inspection, and tax laws apply to income from hobbies.

Photo courtesy of Willo Siberians, one of Wisconsin's Breeders With Pride.




Tiny blue paw print bullet point   Rescue Groups

This homeless pup at an adoption day found a new home because someone saw an ad for the adoption event in the local newspaper       Rescue groups do not need to keep the number of dogs rescued under 25 a year under this law. If they see that as a cap, it is a self-imposed cap. They are free to obtain a license and rescue as many dogs as they can. Their license fee is reduced from that paid by commercial operations.

        Under the law, foster homes used by rescue groups do not need to be licensed, but they are subject to inspection. We have been very clear about the fact that we do not intend, nor do we have resources, to inspect every home where dogs are fostered. However, there may be cases when we have reason to believe that conditions in a foster home are not acceptable, and we need the authority to inspect in those situations.




Tiny blue paw print bullet point   What the Standards of Care Require

Wire cages suspended on the sides of a structure that looked like a poultry building.       The Standards are similar to those in other states and are what any pet owner would want and expect, both for the sake of humane treatment and to assure receiving a healthy animal.

       The Standards:

  • DO NOT address breeding practices, other than whelping enclosures.

  • DO NOT address docking tails or ears, or other similar practices.

  • DO contain the flexibilty to accommodate different breeds and sizes of dogs.

  • DOaddress the needs of dogs for:

    • Clean, safe cages or enclosures, that are large enough to allow them to move naturally and that protect them from the elements

    • An adequate supply of clean water and clean, palatable, nutritious food

    • Daily exercise

    • Daily contact with humans and other dogs

    • Veterinary care when they are sick

    • Safe, comfortable transportation




Tiny blue paw print bullet point   Dog Sellers Advisory Committee: Makeup and Role

Mama Westie and the cage she has spent her entire life in.       Wisconsin Act 90 required us to form an advisory committee with up to 12 members to recommend standards for facilities and animal care. It specified what groups would be represented. These standards are the main part of the administrative rule, ATCP 16.

  • The committee included four dog breeders; representatives from two humane societies, a dog rescue group and an animal control facility; a pet store trade group; a sport association that works with dogs; and two veterinarians.

  • Although dog breeders will be the largest group of license holders, other organizations and businesses will also need to be licensed. This is why they were represented.

  • Many dog breeders sell just a few dogs a year. They will not be regulated, so they were not represented. They did have other opportunities for input.

       All members had an equal voice on the committee. The goal was to set standards that would protect dogs and consumers, while still being practical and achievable for businesses and organizations. As could be expected, no one got everything he or she wanted in the recommendations.

       The committee was advisory. Members’ input was considered, along with comments gathered through public hearings and written comments, but ultimately the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection was responsible for writing ATCP 16. The Legislature approved it as written.




Tiny blue paw print bullet point   The Process

A Mama dog tries to walk on the wire mesh of her filthy cage. This is a USDA licensed and inspected facility.       Everyone who has an interest in Wisconsin Act 90 and ATCP 16 has had multiple opportunities to provide input.

  • It was well-publicized as it went through the Legislature, so citizens could send comments to their legislators, and there was a public hearing on the bill.

  • The advisory committee members were listed on the DATCP website, with email address links so citizens could send comments to them.

  • Once DATCP had drafted ATCP 16, it was posted on their website with multiple means of providing comments. Five public hearings were held around the state, and publicized nearly a month in advance of the first one. At each hearing, DATCP provided a detailed explanation of the standards they were proposing. Many or most of those attending were there to ask questions, which this presentation answered. The majority of those who commented supported the standards. DATCP did make changes to the proposed rule based on public comments.

  • The Board of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection provides time at every meeting for citizens to address concerns regardless of whether the topic is on the agenda, and did take several hours’ worth of comments when considering the final draft of ATCP 16

       Two legislative committees had final say on ATCP 16 and the standards of care, which interested groups posted on their websites. Although some committee members contacted DATCP for more information, they did not see fit to call any further public hearings or make any changes to the rule.




Tiny blue paw print bullet point   The Role of Public Opinion

A puppy mill pup says goodbye to his Mom on the day that he is purchased. This pup was very small, had crooked feet, and an inherited disease that caused tremors and seizures.        Regulations affect more than just those who are regulated; they exist to serve a public need or desire.

       Prior to passage of Act 90, the public was frustrated by our inability to protect dogs and the consumers who bought or adopted them and ended up with veterinary bills and dogs that were unfit to be pets. This led to public calls for action and a legislative response.

        We must consider the needs of the general public along with those of regulated parties when we write laws and administrative rules, because that is why we regulate.




Tiny blue paw print bullet point   Enforcement

This dog was rescued when the puppy miller who owned her was arrested.       When inspectors find violations, the licensee is given the chance to correct it. The goal is to solve the problem, not to punish.

  • WE DO use progressive enforcement, starting with warning letters and conferences, when we can’t solve the problem by working with the licensee. We may move to cease-and-desist orders and license suspensions.

  • WE DO take immediate action when inspection reveals a problem that poses an imminent threat to humans or animals.

  • WE DO NOT have authority to issue citations, seize animals, or bring charges in court; we must request local law enforcement agencies to do those things. Going to the sheriff or district attorney is a last resort, unless there is imminent danger to humans or animals.

  • Our inspectors are NOT armed.




Tiny blue paw print bullet point   Qualifications of Inspectors

Puppies in a cage awaiting sale at a swap meet.       DATCP inspectors conducted more than 42,700 inspections in 2009, including dairy farms and dairy plants, meat slaughterers and processors, grocery stores and delis, gas pumps and price scanners, beehives, Christmas tree farms, nursery growers and dealers, pesticide and fertilizer tanks, and animal feed mills.

       The overwhelming majority of these inspections find no violations or minor violations that are easily corrected, and confrontations with licensees are rare. Inspectors are not heavy-handed, and are generally viewed as helpful by businesses that want to do the right thing – which most businesses do.

       Inspectors are hired for their experience and training in the areas they are inspecting, and may have a law enforcement background as well. They receive initial training in the department’s compliance policies and procedures, and ongoing training to keep up with changes in their fields and in the law.

       The inspectors hired for this program have knowledge of animal husbandry, veterinary care, animal law, and law enforcement. They do not need to have experience in dog breeding, because they are not inspecting reproductive practices. You do not have to be a dog breeder to evaluate sanitation, space, exercise and socialization for dogs, or to see when they need veterinary care.




Tiny blue paw print bullet point   Funding This Program

Close-up of the wire cages the pups were kept in. Note how the paws are splayed to keep from going through the mesh.       Fees paid by the licensees will pay for all costs associated with this program: personnel salaries and benefits, supplies, training, all other administrative costs.

  • No general tax funds will go to support this program. If funding falls short, DATCP cannot shift other funds to support it. They would have to make cuts to the program or ask the Legislature to increase the license fees.

  • Cost estimates were based on the experience of other states with similar programs.

  • Costs may be passed on to consumers. Any additional costs may well be offset by receiving a healthier animal with fewer and lower veterinary bills, and less likelihood of bites and other injuries to humans and less damage to property by poorly adjusted animals.




Tiny blue paw print bullet point   Cost to Businesses

This little puggle spends his days lying on wire mesh in a brightly-lit "state-of-the-art" cube in a Petland pet store. No blankie, no mat, no toys -- no hope.       License fees range from $125 a year for non-profit animal shelters to $1,000 a year for someone selling at least 250 dogs a year. This cost should not be onerous

  • Some hobbyist breeders may decide to limit sales to a level where they will not need to be licensed.

  • Breeders who have good facilities and practices should not need major investments to meet the new standards.

  • Some breeders may decide to go out of business rather than improve their facilities or change their practices to meet the standards of humane treatment.




Tiny blue paw print bullet point   Supply of Dogs

Precious Lady, a scarred golden lab, was purchased at the Thorp Dog Auction, 10 March 07       The supply of dogs in Wisconsin is not likely to be affected by Wisconsin Act 90 or ATCP 16:

  • It is unlikely that we will ever have a shortage of dogs in general. Most dogs in animal shelters are strays, drop-offs, and unplanned puppies from within our own borders.

  • Other states that regulate these businesses do not report consumer difficulty in finding dogs in their own states.

  • Some shelters do bring in dogs from other states when shelters elsewhere run out of space. These dogs arrive with certificates of veterinary inspection, and under Act 90 will need to be examined by a veterinarian before being adopted out. They do not pose an increased disease risk to in-state breeders’ animals.




Tiny blue paw print bullet point   Need More Information?

Online: (look for “Dog sellers and shelters”)


Phone: 608-224-4872

 pawprint bullet point   Printer-friendly version, Clearing Up the Confusion About WI's New Dog Seller/ Dealer/ Shelter Law (pdf)   pawprint bullet point




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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