Pulling a rabbit out of a hat is a classic magic trick. But if a magician wants to do it nowadays he also needs to be able to pull out a license for the hare and a USDA-approved “rabbit disaster plan” that details how the bunny will hop to safety in case of a natural disaster, like a hurricane, flood, or sharknado. Or even if the air conditioning goes out.
This Kafkaesque regulatory requirement started over forty years ago — with a dog named Pepper.
In 1965, Pepper disappeared from the yard of her home. Shortly after the disappearance, the owner recognized his missing dog in a picture taken of an animal dealer’s overcrowded truck featured in a local newspaper. The owner’s wife, children, and even his congressman tried to locate and retrieve the dog but were denied entrance to the “dog farm.” Unfortunately, the family never got the dog back: Pepper had been euthanized in an experimental procedure at a New York hospital. The incident led the congressman to introduce H.R. 9743, a bill that would require dog and cat dealers, and the laboratories that purchased the animals, be licensed and inspected by the USDA.
According to the USDA, the 1966 law, which was primarily concerned with dogs and cats, was restrictive in regards to its coverage of the types of animals and regulated facilities. Research facilities only had to register if they received government funding and the dogs or cats had to have crossed state lines. But as David A. Fahrenthold notes, “the letter of the law was broad. In theory, it could apply to someone who “exhibited” any animals as part of a show.” And indeed it does: