No one can deny that puppies are cute. Whatever their breed, warm, wriggly, bundles of fluff can charm just about anybody. This appeal however, can also be their downfall and it is what makes puppies big business in the UK.
CHECK OUT THE BBC TV REPORT
To watch this compelling documentary on the puppy trade first broadcast in April 2015 see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05qqf00
What is puppy farming?
There are a number of breeders registered in the UK whose sole business is the breeding of puppies for profit. Unlike small reputable breeders, who often specialise in one or two breeds, these breeders have many different breeds that they know will sell quickly and easily. They have tens, and sometimes hundreds, of breeding bitches and they usually sell on their puppies to dealers or pet shops. Welfare considerations are low and the rise of the internet has made it much easier for these breeders to dispose of their ‘stock’ to unsuspecting customers, who may have no idea of the origins of their new arrival. The scale of the industry is much bigger than many people realise. According to the Kennel Club it is estimated that as many as 1.5 million dogs in the UK today could have come from puppy farms. 41% of people who bought a puppy last year did not see the dog with its mother, meaning it is highly likely that those puppies came from a puppy farm.
Is puppy farming regulated?
There are regulations in the UK that cover the breeding of dogs. The Breeding of Dogs Act 1973 meant that breeders had to register with their local authority. The 1999 Amendments to the Breeding of Dogs Act then set limits on number of litters per breeding female and required breeding and trading records to be kept. The 2006 Animal Welfare Act also made the owners responsible for meeting the needs of their dogs, including the provision of a suitable environment and the ability to exhibit normal behaviour patterns. It is clear that the legislation is open to interpretation. Puppy farmers argue that dogs are simply another form of livestock and it is therefore justifiable to farm them using methods more usually associated with other domestic animals such as cattle or pigs.
What are the problems?
As human companions, dogs need to learn as early as possible how to live with people. For puppy farms, this aspect of their welfare is of no interest, the sole motivation for breeding being profit. The dogs are usually kept in rows of cramped cages with little opportunity for human socialisation and where disease can spread rapidly. Although there are limits on the number of matings per breeding bitch, paperwork can be easily forged and these dogs often spend a miserable life in a cage being repeatedly bred from until they are worn out and then killed. The dogs and puppies have little human contact and are ill-prepared for life as part of a family. The new owners may be unable to cope with the dog, which may then be passed on through several owners or end up as strays. There is evidence that as well as poor mental health, many puppies from these farms have health issues. They are often bred with little thought to improving the breed in terms of health, and poor hygiene standards lead to puppies suffering from easily preventable diseases. Even if breeders comply with the regulations, the noise from large numbers of dogs in a small area, coupled with poor socialisation can lead to problems with anxiety or aggression.
At Wild at Heart Foundation, we believe that dogs are domestic companion animals and that the regulations surrounding the breeding of them should be more controlled in order to improve their quality of life. We believe the existing legislation is inadequate and that the following changes should be introduced:
- Tougher standards in terms of the number of dogs allowed per breeding establishment and the number of staff allowed per number of dogs.
- Compulsory microchipping and electronic records so that regulations regarding number of litters per bitch can be better enforced.
- Puppies should also be microchipped and electronic records kept so that buyers can easily check the origins of a potential purchase.
- Funds need to be made available so that local authorities can better enforce the current legislation, ensuring that all dogs have opportunities for exercise and play and their mental well-being is considered as important as their physical. Also, sufficient funding to ensure prosecution of rogue breeders.
- No licenses for pet shops to sell dogs or puppies.
We also believe that educating the public to buy dogs responsibly is a key component of improving dog welfare. The easing of transport regulations for dogs into the UK has meant that a profitable trade in puppies from farms in Southern Ireland and Eastern Europe has also sprung up. These factory farms are even more difficult to regulate, so it is essential that demand is reduced.
At Wild at Heart Foundation, we believe that with so many stray and unwanted pets looking for homes, those looking to buy a dog should adopt an adult dog or a puppy from a rescue charity. If you really want to buy from a breeder, it is essential that you find out as much about your potential purchase as possible. We have the following tips to ensure that you are not supporting the factory farming of dogs:
- Do your research and seek out a responsible breeder. Responsible breeders follow strict guidelines on number of litters and breed with careful consideration for the health and welfare of the mother and puppies.
- Always view the puppy in its home environment and make sure you meet the mother. Don’t be tempted by a more convenient ‘half way’ meet up and always check the paperwork.
- Don’t buy a puppy from a pet shop or the internet because it looks sweet, or seems cheap. Remember that people can seem legitimate and have a plausible story, but if it seems to good be true, it probably is. You may pay less up front, but increased vets’ fees and socialisation problems could end up costing you more in the long run.
- If you suspect that the puppy you have been introduced to is not from a legitimate source don’t buy it. It may feel like you are ‘rescuing’ the puppy from a deplorable situation, but in reality you will be condemning another puppy to a similar fate. Take any information you have to the RSPCA.
For further information:
- Care and Respect Includes All Dogs (C.A.R.I.A.D) cariadcampaign.wordpress.com
(This article has been written by one of the Wild at Heart Foundation volunteers, Jo Chick)