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Shocking puppy farm scandal exposed

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A SHOCKING BBC Wales documentary screened on Monday night (Sept 30) laid bare the extent of the puppy farming scandal in West Wales.

This newspaper has repeatedly reported on the cruelty of puppy farming and the Lucy’s Law campaign and is not surprised by the content of the BBC Wales Investigates programme, anchored by Wyre Davies.

With the resources at its disposal, BBC Wales was able to dig deeper into links between breeders, vets, and how licensed premises are permitted to keep open despite serious animal welfare issues.
<strong>
SYSTEMIC FAILURES IN ANIMAL WELFARE</strong>

One veterinary practises, Towy Vets of Carmarthen, was shown to have listed a dog as fit for breeding even though it also recorded it as dead. Animals as young as three months old were also shown as ready for breeding.

A breeder based in Carmarthenshire, Alun Douch, alleged that he had administered the parvo-virus vaccine to animals himself, having bought it from Towy Vets.

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeon rules provides that a dog can only be vaccinated after a medical inspection by a qualified vet.

The medical records for the parvo vaccine’s administration must have been lacking as Mr Douch later sold a puppy to a Swansea woman which had to be destroyed because it suffered from the highly contagious and lethal disease.

When the dog’s buyer contacted the breeder, Alun Douch of Tywi Vale, Nantgaredig, she alleged that Mr Douch offered to administer antibiotics to the animal.

A Council inspection document revealed that there was an ongoing problem with parvo-virus at Mr Douch’s breeding establishment.

The same document-related that an inspector had seen Mr Douch kick a dog during the inspection.

Mr Douch continued holding a licence in spite of that incident.

In a statement to the BBC, solicitors acting for Mr Douch denied ‘any cruelty to any animal’.

An expert panel assembled by the BBC which examined the cases used in the programme expressed serious concerns about animal health and welfare and questioned the rigour of the inspection regime and enforcement.

The BBC report that a senior vet – Mike Jessop – who is brought in by local authorities to advise on welfare issues, told the broadcaster there were clear examples where some professional colleagues have been “found wanting”.

He said he would be making a referral to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons regarding the evidence in the programme.

In a statement on its website, Towy Vets said: ‘In relation to the BBC Wales Investigates television programme broadcast on 30th September 2019, a specific health report given to a Carmarthenshire licensed breeder was referenced. We are unfortunately unable to discuss client cases and share any of the background detail to the referenced report, and handwritten notes on that report.

‘Towy Vets passionately believe that breeding should be done within strict animal welfare guidelines and expect our vets to follow the RCVS code of conduct. We would welcome further dialogue with Carmarthenshire Council on the regulation of breeding.’

<strong>MP CALLS FOR DECISIVE ACTION</strong>

In 2018, Carmarthenshire became one of the first local authorities in Wales to adopt Lucy’s Law.

Lucy’s Law aims to ban third-party puppy and kitten sales, ensuring stronger protections for animals.

However, the problem in West Wales appears to be not only with unlicensed breeders but also with the activities of licensed ones.

Jonathan Edwards MP, who wrote to the Labour Welsh Government to address the poor animal welfare issues raised on the programme, developed that point.

Carmarthen East and Dinefwr MP, Jonathan Edwards said: “My constituents are very concerned that this remains an ongoing issue in Wales. It is my understanding that these terrible events took place on licensed premises. It appears that licences have been issued to people who do not have the welfare of these dogs at heart.

I have written to the Welsh Government to press them for immediate, decisive action to stop these farms from operating in such a terrible manner. An investigation is also required for these unscrupulous activities. It seems clear to me that the current regulations under this government are inadequate.”

<strong>AM QUESTIONS ‘FAILING’ SYSTEM</strong>

Mid and West Regional Labour AM Joyce Watson raised the harrowing programme in First Minister’s Questions in the Senedd.

Ms Watson commended the BBC for showing ‘cruelty beyond belief in council-registered puppy farms’.

The AM continued: “It showed hundreds of dogs living in filthy, dark, damp and cold conditions. These premises are inspected annually by inspectors and vets, people who are supposed to prioritise the welfare of the animals.

A number of premises have been inspected and found wanting, with breaches concerning poor animal welfare logged by inspectors and vets.

This wasn’t a one-off, they had consistently failed to meet recommendations and had been issued with warnings. Despite this, no action was taken against the breeders and licences were reissued year on year.

In some instances, not even basic needs were being met, such as in one site near Llandysul that featured in the programme.”

In that case, a dog was given to undercover workers from a rescue charity. After a vet inspected the animal, a dead puppy was found undelivered and emergency surgery needed to save the animal’s life.

Joyce Watson continued: “The legislation that is in place to protect these dogs is failing. The sheer volume of upheld complaints suggests that something is radically wrong in this process. Minister, I’d like to know what immediate action the Welsh Government are taking, in light of this report, to protect the welfare of both the puppies and the adult dogs at the puppy farms featured in this programme. And it’s clear to me, from the response that I’ve had swiftly overnight, that these authorities are overwhelmed.”

Responding on the Welsh Government’s behalf, Trefynydd Rebecca Evans told AMs she and other AMs shared Joyce Watson’s horror at the programme’s content.

Ms Evans said: The Minister for Environment and Rural Affairs [Lesley Griffiths AM] has written — or intends to very shortly — to veterinary bodies, and also to local authorities about this specific issue. She’s meeting with the chief veterinary officer tomorrow (Wednesday, Oct 2). But I also know that the Minister intends to ask the animal welfare framework group to revisit the current breeding regulations to improve welfare conditions at breeding establishments.”

<strong>TIME IS THE KILLER</strong>

How long that will take is anybody’s guess, in the meantime animals are still suffering in both licensed and unlicensed puppy farms in Carmarthenshire and elsewhere.

An illustration of the current regulatory regime’s shortcomings is shown by the case of Sylvia Griffiths, the owner of Glenview Kennels in Llandyfaelog, who continued to breed and sell puppies despite being refused a licence by Carmarthenshire County Council.

Griffiths held a breeding licence for Glenview since 1998, originally granted for up to 23 adult dogs.

However, when she applied to renew her licence in July 2016, animal health officers visited and found 74 adult dogs on the premises in overcrowded conditions with no free access to exercise areas.

Despite being given time to address conditions and warned that a failure to bring about necessary improvements to animal welfare, when council officers returned to her premises in December 2016 they found that conditions had not improved sufficiently to permit Griffiths to continue holding a licence.

Notwithstanding the officers’ findings, Griffiths continued to defy the law and breed dogs for sale.

It took a complaint from a concerned customer in May 2017, however, for the Council to take further action.

It was over a year later, on July 20, 2018, that Griffiths was ordered to pay £13,500 in fines and costs for continuing to breed and sell puppies illegally.

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Wales completes move to alert level 0

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THE MOVE completes the Welsh Government’s phased lifting of the alert level 2 protections, which were put in place on Boxing Day to keep Wales safe as the omicron wave swept across the country.

Some important protections will remain in place at alert level 0, including mandatory face coverings in most indoor public places, including on public transport.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said the relaxation of protections was possible thanks to the hard work of everyone in Wales and the success of the vaccination programme – more than 1.8 million booster doses have been given.

And, since the start of December, more than 36,000 people have come forward to have their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “We have passed the peak of this omicron wave and there are encouraging signs that cases of coronavirus may be starting to stabilise. But we all need to continue taking steps to stay safe – unfortunately the pandemic is not over yet.

“We are moving to alert level 0 and we will retain some important protections, such as face coverings in most indoor public places and risk assessments.

“We can do this thanks to the hard work and efforts of everyone in Wales and the remarkable success of our vaccine and booster programmes. Thank you all.”

On Friday 28 January, Wales will complete the move to alert level 0. This means:

  • Nightclubs can re-open.
  • The general requirement of 2m social distancing in all premises open to the public and workplaces will be removed.
  • The rule of six will no longer apply to gatherings in regulated premises, such as hospitality, cinemas and theatres.
  • Licensed premises will no longer need to only provide table service and collect contact details. The Covid Pass will continue to be required to enter larger indoor events, nightclubs, cinemas, theatres and concert halls.
  • Working from home will remain important but it will no longer be a legal requirement.
  • Businesses, employers and other organisations must continue to undertake a specific coronavirus risk assessment and take reasonable measures to minimise the spread of coronavirus, which may include 2m social distancing or controlled entry.

Face-covering rules, which apply on public transport and in most public indoor places will remain in force after 28 January, with the exception of hospitality settings such as restaurants, pubs, cafes and nightclubs.

Everyone must also continue to self-isolate if they test positive for coronavirus but the Welsh Government has reduced the self-isolation period from seven to 5 full days.

People are advised to take 2 negative lateral flow tests 24 hours apart on days 5 and 6. The self-isolation support scheme payment will return to the original rate of £500 for all those who are eligible.

The next 3-weekly review of the coronavirus regulations will be carried out by 10 February, when all the measures at alert level 0 will be reviewed.

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Appeal to get Pilgrim sculpture back on its feet nearing target

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The forlorn sculpture.

A FUNDRAISING appeal to raise £7,500 to re-erect a sculpture of a pilgrim on the hilltop above the ruins of the famous Strata Florida Abbey in the Cambrian Mountains is within £700 of hitting its target.

The Pilgrim, or Y Pererin in the Welsh language, was created by artist Glenn Morris and erected on Penlan, the hill overlooking Strata Florida Abbey, near Pontrhydfendigaid, in 2012.

Sadly, the sculpture collapsed in high winds in 2019 and now lays forlorn on the hilltop, located between Devil’s Bridge and Tregaron.

This sculpture, created as part of a temporary exhibition, has become a popular and iconic part of the Welsh landscape, with strong connections to Welsh culture, language and identity.

Following its collapse, the sculpture is now missing from the skyline of Strata Florida and the fundraising appeal aims to rebuild a new stronger, permanent Pilgrim to stand the tests of time.

The Pilgrim/ Y Pererin sculpture before it collapsed.

Planning permission for the new sculpture has already been secured and Glenn Morris is eager to begin the project.

The World Monuments Fund has offered to provide match funding if the community raises £7,500 by February 3. Anyone wishing to contribute to the fundraising target can donate online at https://localgiving.org/appeal/pilgrim/ .

An extra fundraising event for the Pilgrim appeal is being held on February 18. A 3.5 mile walk along a mixture of logging roads, farmlands and through ancient forest to reach the 12th century Cistercian abbey ruins of Strata Florida will be followed by a guided exhibition tour and Welsh tea.

This pilgrimage will be led by Guided Pilgrimage, a not-for-profit company providing a range of Celtic pilgrimage experiences in West Wales.

Strata Florida was a thriving community 900 years ago. Today, the conserved ruins of the old abbey church and part of the cloisters are in the care of Cadw, the Welsh Government’s heritage agency, and can be visited by the public from Easter to late autumn.

The remains are only a small fraction of what was once a much larger abbey, stretching over an area of 126 acres where the rest survives below ground as a well-preserved archaeology.

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Denial of Wales-specific Covid inquiry ‘no longer tenable’ say Welsh Conservatives

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THE WELSH CONSERVATIVES have reiterated their call for an inquiry that focuses exclusively on the actions of the Welsh Government in tackling coronavirus in a letter to the First Minister.

It was prompted after it was revealed that the Welsh Government have been aware that NHS Wales was not prepared for an airborne virus as far back as 2004, following the SARS outbreak. Despite committing to an audit and allocation to rectify the lack of isolation facilities, this did not materialise.

The letter from Andrew RT Davies MS, which states “decision made in Wales should be scrutinised in Wales” follows a weekend when Mark Drakeford was keen to highlight that his government had “always taken a different approach in Wales [compared to the British Government], one that does things step-by-step”.

Concerned: Andrew RT Davies

In the letter, the Welsh Conservatives leader questions why, despite him stressing divergences in the approach to coronavirus, the First Minister still feels it “inappropriate to separate” from the British Government “when the time comes for accountability”.

The Labour Government policy is for its actions to be included in the UK-wide inquiry that will chiefly investigate the actions of the Conservative Government. There will be a Scotland-specific inquiry after Nicola Sturgeon commissioned one.

Joining the Welsh Conservatives in their calls for a Wales-specific inquiry are the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Group, the British Lung Foundation, Medics 4 Mask Up Wales, the Institute for Welsh Affairs, and Plaid Cymru.

Commenting on the letter, Andrew RT Davies MS said: “The position of exercising wide-ranging emergency powers that curtailed the liberty and closed the economy of the Welsh people but avoiding accountability through an inquiry that focusses on how those decisions were made is no longer tenable.

“Under Mark Drakeford, Wales has experienced the highest Covid death-rate of UK nations, seen its children lose more time for learning than anywhere else in the country, and imposed economically cruel and clinically unnecessary restrictions in an overzealous attempt to tackle the Omicron variant.

“We, along with bereaved families and medical groups, believe that the decisions that led to these outcomes need to be put under the spotlight, not hidden in the shadow of an inquiry that will inevitably focus on the British Government.

“Indeed, if Mark Drakeford is so confident in the actions of his government, then why is he against having them examined in a Wales-specific inquiry? That is what people will be asking when British and Scottish leaders have ordered investigations into their own handling of the pandemic.

“As I say to the First Minister in my letter, it is not too late for him to change his mind and take this opportunity to do the right thing and order that inquiry.”

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