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As the state’s animal welfare programs manager for the past 23 years, Yvonne Bellay has watched animal sales change from a simple process where sellers used local newspaper ads to move animals to today’s complex formulas that include national and regional sellers and rescue operations that advertise via social media and other internet sources.

The sale of animals for pets is big business since 37 percent of American households have dogs and 32 percent have cats, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

There’s also a market for ferrets, guinea pigs, birds, rabbits, snakes and other exotic pets.

Bellay advises people to be cautious when they are looking to buy a dog, cat or other animal for a pet. “It’s a matter of knowing who you are dealing with,” she said. “Do some legwork and check things out as best you can. You have to be careful sometimes about just going on a website and picking something.”

A licensed veterinarian who has held clinical instruction positions at UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, Bellay describes her job with the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection as “anything that tends to be companion-animal related.”

The Ohio native manages the state’s dog sellers and shelters program as well as the humane officer training and certification program.

She’s also an epidemiologist and is responsible for the state’s rabies program.

“I serve as a resource to local authorities, trying to assist them in their handling of animal welfare complaints they might get,” Bellay said. “We do not have any authority to enforce the criminal statutes, that’s the responsibility of county law enforcement. But if they have situations that come up, I’ll do what I can to assist them.”

Bellay was instrumental in the passing of a Wisconsin law in 2011 regulating dog breeding, sales and adoptions, and licensing many dog breeders, dealers, sellers, shelters and rescues that foster and adopt out dogs.

It also prohibits selling puppies younger than 7 weeks unless they go with their mothers, and it requires veterinarian-approved health certificates for dogs that are sold or adopted for a fee.

What are the positive effects of the law?

Prior to the law being put into place, we had absolutely no idea who was out there selling dogs because there was no requirement for them to tell us. Now we know who’s out there. They are required to be inspected. Our inspectors make sure everything meets the standards and statutes. We have to do specific inspections. We do a pre-licensing inspection before someone can operate, then the law says they must be inspected once every two years and we have the authority to do complaint-based inspections.

Was there an initial rush of complaints after the law was passed?

Initially, a lot of things came in. Again, there hadn’t been any (regulations). A number of facilities that had been in operation were required to make improvements to meet the standards. So I think it has made a huge difference. I think it has done a good job of doing what it was supposed to do.

What is the state of the dog sellers business in Wisconsin?

Those who are doing a good job make sure they meet our import requirements that we have in place to prevent the spread of disease.

There are many groups that are aware of the requirements and comply with the requirements and we don’t have issues. Each state has its own requirements and they are all meant to reduce disease transmissions so it’s good for the animals and good for the people receiving those animals and it’s good for the livestock industry to keep the livestock healthy.

What animals get the most calls for signs of abuse?

Some of it is seasonable. When we have hard winters, people call when they see animals outside. Sometimes that’s an issue with our dog sellers and shelters program — people are aware of the law and they call when they see something that might generate some complaints. We want them to do that, to let us know.

— Interview by Rob Schultz

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Rob Schultz has won multiple writing awards at the state and national levels and covers an array of topics for the Wisconsin State Journal in south-central and southwestern Wisconsin.