T IS sometimes observed that the British are prepared to allow humans to live in conditions that they would not allow their own pets to endure.
But imagine what it is like to be a breeding bitch on a puppy farm.
Puppy farms are large-scale breeding premises. The aim of puppy farms is to make money, no matter the cost to the dogs, who are kept in cramped and cruel conditions. The puppies are sold through pet shops, internet and newspaper ads.
Puppy farms in the UK have been found to have as many as 200 breeding dogs, most kept locked inside 24 hours a day, often in complete darkness. They are usually located on farms in barns, disused chicken houses garages or any disused outbuilding.
The dogs are forced to eat, sleep and give birth in the same area they urinate and defecate; something they would never do given the choice. In some cases they are treated worse than animals bred for the food chain.
The general public keep up the demand for pups and so the cruelty continues, day after miserable day.
Dogs on puppy farms are often neglected; matted coats, infected eyes and ears and rotten teeth are just a few of the painful conditions the dog suffer. When breeding dogs become too old and exhausted to continue producing puppies they are killed or a lucky few are given to rescues.
The puppies also often have behavioural and psychological problems, such as aggression and fearfulness, because they are not exposed to the outside world.
The puppies are generally removed from their mothers far too early and sent by rail or van to ‘dealers’ or pet shops to satisfy the public’s demands.
Many are severely traumatised by the transition, and some do not make it out alive. Puppies from these sources will have had the worst possible start in life, and are far more likely to have health and temperament problems.
THE COST OF BUYING FROM A PUPPY FARM CAN BE SIGNIFICANT
Almost half of dog owners are spending more on vets’ fees than they had accounted for, as more than one in four people (27%) say that they suspect that their puppy came from a cruel puppy farm. The rising cost of owning a puppy comes as people opt to buy ‘mail order pups’ online or from newspaper ads.
Many of these pups will go on to develop diseases and conditions common in puppy farmed pups. One fifth of pups purchased online, without being seen by their new owner first, ended up with serious gastro intestinal problems, 15%with the potentially deadly parvovirus and one in ten developed kennel cough.
WHY ARE PUPPIES FARMED?
And make no mistake, puppy farming is big and profitable business. While there are around 10 licensed dog breeders in Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire, there are many more unscrupulous breeders doing the canine equivalent of stacking ‘em high and selling ‘em not so cheap.
As an example if a commercial breeder with 50 bitches – a not unusual figure – that produce one litter a year of four pups and the pups sold for £200 each, that would be an annual income of around £40,000. If one multiplied that by the number of licensed breeders in one county, Carmarthenshire, that is £3.2m of gross income each year.
Add in Ceredigion, another 40 licensed establishments and you are up to £4.8m a year.
Those figures are startling enough, but the true figures may be even higher. An investigation by The Dog Rescue Federation has suggested that Carmarthenshire alone produces 28,000 puppies a year from licensed breeding establishments.
Moreover, some of the puppy farms are co-located with farms that receive significant sums in European subsidies, and the Welsh Government has neither the resources nor the capacity to determine whether funds intended to assist agriculture are being used to fund the factory farming of family pets.
As for any assurance that might be given by the statutory provisions in Wales, a Daily Mirror investigation into Carmarthenshire puppy farms in January of this year revealed that even licensed dog breeders are reluctant to allow purchasers to follow a key part of purchase advice; namely, allowing buyers to see their purchases with their mothers.
KENNEL CLUB SPEAKS
With west Wales being a centre for both legitimate dog breeding and puppy farming, The Herald asked the Kennel Club for their view on the issue.
Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club Secretary, said: “Puppy farmers exploit the UK’s love of dogs by breeding for profit, without any consideration for health and welfare. The sad fact is that puppy buyers can inadvertently keep irresponsible breeders in business if they do not do the necessary research before they buy a puppy.
“By far the simplest message the Kennel Club can give those looking for a dog is to always go to a Kennel Club Assured Breeder and to always see the pup interacting with its mother in its home environment.
“The Kennel Club established the Kennel Club Assured Breeder Scheme to help guide puppy buyers to responsible breeders and it carries out its own inspections on breeders to ensure they are adhering to high standards of practice.
“It is the only scheme in the UK where dog breeders have to follow high standards for caring for the health and welfare of their dogs and they have to agree to have their premises inspected before they join the scheme and at least every three years thereafter.
“We are extremely concerned about any breeders, large or small scale, who put the health and welfare of the dogs and puppies secondary to profit, or do not even consider it at all, and we would recommend anyone who has concerns that someone may be a puppy farmer to make their local authority aware and report any dog welfare concerns to the RSPCA.
“Prospective puppy buyers can help put irresponsible breeders out of business by doing their research and ensuring they buy a dog responsibly.
“There are a few simple things people can do to ensure they buy a puppy as responsibly as they can, such as always seeing the puppy with its mother, checking out the breeding environment and asking to see relevant health test certificates for the puppy’s parents.
“There are lots of tips and advice on finding a healthy, happy dog on the Kennel Club website and we would strongly suggest prospective dog owners start there when doing their research.”
WHAT DOES RSPCA CYMRU HAVE TO SAY RSPCA
Cymru superintendent Martyn Hubbard told us: “Puppy trafficking is big business and dealers are getting rich from duping members of the public and leaving a trail of sick and dead puppies behind them, not to mention the heartache of families that have bought puppies.
“Many irresponsible breeders who breed puppies for sale, are based on maximising profit with little regard for animal welfare.
“RSPCA Cymru welcomed the introduction of new legislation in Wales in 2015 to regulate dog breeding establishments. However, though this marks a significant improvement, we remain concerned that the regulations don’t go far enough in some areas.
“For example, they fail to address the need to prioritise health, welfare and temperament over appearance when choosing which animals to breed, in order to protect the welfare of both the parents and the offspring, or to tackle the issues of inherited diseases and exaggerated physical features which compromise the welfare of many dogs of numerous breeds and types.
“Parts of Wales have an unenviable reputation for poor breeding practices. It is vital Local Authorities in Wales feel equipped to tackle this serious problem, and are in a position to stamp out such incidences and ensure breeders protect the welfare of dogs and puppies involved.
“This is particularly important where dog breeding is exceptionally prevalent, such as in Carmarthenshire and other parts of west Wales.
“Given the overpopulation of companion animals in Wales, we’d urge people to strongly consider adopting a dog or puppy in need of a second chance.”
THE PROBLEM ISN’T CONFINED TO BUYING DOGS FROM WALES
There was a 61% increase in pups coming into the UK from abroad in the first year since the controls were relaxed under changes to the Pet Travel Scheme in 2012, and that does not account for the undeclared dogs that are being smuggled illegally into the country.
People opt to buy ‘mail order pups’ online or from newspaper ads, not realising that many pups being sold through these routes have been illegally smuggled from abroad.
One in ten people bought a ‘mail order pup’ from the internet online or from a newspaper advert, without seeing it first. This is a classic sign that the puppy has come from a puppy farm, as the breeder does not want buyers to see the state of the pup or the conditions it was raised in.
Local authorities have a key role in taking action against puppy farmers, both through Trading Standards investigations and in animal welfare.
DOES YOUR COUNTY COUNCIL HAVE ANYTHING TO SAY?
The Herald asked each of the County Councils in our circulation area to tell our readers what they were doing to curb the puppy farm trade. We asked for details of any prosecutions and rogue breeders.
Ceredigion County Council directed our enquiry to the Chief Veterinary Officer for the Welsh Government.
Carmarthenshire County Council was a little more forthcoming: ‘All reports of potential unlicensed dog breeding are investigated and followed up and appropriate action taken. Several of these have resulted in licences being issued when appropriate and conditions allowed.
‘A very small number of unlicensed dog breeding resulted in offenders receiving an official caution.
‘There are currently four ongoing investigations’.
Pembrokeshire County Council told us: ‘In 2015 Welsh Government brought in new legislation relating to the licensing of dog breeders in Wales.
Licensed breeders are required by law to:
• Have a staff to dog ratio of one full time attendant to not more than 20 dogs
• Submit enrichment and socialisation plans to local authorities
• Conform to statutory licensing requirements
• Have regard to specific guidance published by Welsh Ministers
Pembrokeshire County Council’s spokesperson continued: ‘The Council has always been proactive in trying ensure good standards are followed by licensed dog breeders.’
Three years ago it introduced a scheme that rewarded good licensed dog breeders with an Award scheme.
The scheme aims to recognise and encourage high standards at licensed premises and this year six out of 13 licensed breeders have achieved the Award.
Pembrokeshire County Council actively looks for people advertising puppies for sale on a regular basis and will investigate all complaints relating to the breeding of dogs.
The Council’s Cabinet Member for Environmental and Regulatory Services, Huw George, said he welcomed the stance taken by the new Chief Executive of the RSPCA who said the organisation would be ‘less adversarial’ under his leadership.
Councillor George added: “We also support the recommendation in the recent RSPCA Report on the Review of Responsible Dog Ownership. Commissioned by the Welsh Government, it calls for an annual dog registration fee scheme for Wales, to help fund sustainable dog welfare and control services.”