Puppy farming is the mass commercial production of puppies purely for profit and without any thought for the health, welfare and quality of life of the puppy and its parents. Pup Aid is determined to bring about an end to this cruel and unnecessary practice.
Kept in horrific conditions, puppies are usually unvaccinated, sent long distances cross country and sold en masse – usually poorly and riddled with painful disease – to pet shops, private dealers, and for both sale and re-sale through various websites.
Aside from the welfare of the animal, failing to tackle puppy farming leaves potential dog owners exposed: unaware of the puppy's background, unable to see the puppy interacting with its mother to assess her temperament and what that may indicate about the puppy (including the risk of aggressive behaviour in later life) and oblivious to the disgusting environment in which the puppy was bred. Owners, often young families, are frequently left both financially and emotionally damaged when these sick pups require expensive veterinary treatments or, at worst, euthanasia.
The vast majority of these puppies are supplied from puppy farms in Wales and Ireland, outside the jurisdiction of the UK Parliament.
We can however tackle the demand side by looking at the retail points - where these animals are sold. The Government can have an immediate impact by defining more tightly the welfare conditions currently required to allow the sale of puppies and kittens – specifically banning the sale of puppies (and kittens) in pet shops where the mother is not present.
It should be noted here that this also would cover internet and private dealers. Under the Pet Animals Act 1951 premises of any nature, including a private dwelling, where the business of selling animals as pets is carried out, are considered a pet shop. The same definition is applied to this briefing.
We recognise that the internet and private dealers are harder to police, indeed they often operate illegally without being licensed by the local council, but this simple step would have an immediate impact and ensure the public are aware that a licensed establishment, whatever its nature, will also adhere to this welfare standard.
In terms of physical premises on the 'high street', 2% of pet shops – approximately 70 shops across the UK – still choose to sell young puppies and kittens 1. It is believed that in every instance the puppies and kittens are housed and sold without their mothers.
The pet shop environment, while subject to inspection and potentially good in terms of physical environment, is very poor at meeting the need for puppies to develop and exhibit important normal behaviour patterns and the need to be housed with other animals 2. Clear patterns have been established between early experiences and the development of aggression in dogs.
In 1951, when this issue was last looked at, it may have been considered acceptable to narrowly define an animal's well-being with reference solely to its accommodation, access to suitable food and drink, and 'visits' at appropriate intervals. It is not acceptable today. Action is long overdue.
The Animal Welfare Act 2006 gave government the power to act but nothing has happened. Legislation governing the sale of puppies and kittens through pet shops is now 63 years old.
We believe that for the majority of pet shops affected, the sale of puppies and kittens constitutes a relatively small percentage of turnover. Although animal welfare issues demand immediate action, a six month delay in the legislation coming into force would allow those businesses to find alternative revenue streams, such as grooming and doggy daycare – activities with the potential to generate repeat business and establish long-term customer relationships.
Tackling the sale of puppies and kittens in pet shops would send a very clear message to puppy farms that both government and public are united in their determination to improve animal welfare in the UK, and ensure puppies and kittens are kept with the mother until sale.
The welfare of dogs and cats is not a minority issue: 13 million households have pets, including between them over 17 million cats and dogs. One in three of these are purchased in pet shops, online or via newspaper adverts – outlets often used by puppy farmers. Though 95% of the British public would never buy from a puppy farmer 3, as many as 900,000 have done so without knowing in a single calendar year.
The public want action: over 100,000 signed an e-petition calling for a ban on the sale of puppies and kittens where the mother is not present.
DEFRA's own guidance to the public is to "always see the puppy with its mother". Continuing to allow the sale of puppies by pet shops makes this impossible and contradicts national guidelines.
What can the Government do?
The Government is already empowered to bring forward secondary legislation under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Chapter 13 on licensing of activities involving animals was explicitly designed with the future amendment of the Pet Animals Act 1951 in mind.
Secondary legislation would repeal any outdated legislation, and could be introduced to prohibit the licensing of pet shops or retail outlets to sell puppies or kittens where the mother is not present. Crucially, this legislation could be introduced and passed by Statutory Instrument in an SI Committee and not on the floor of the House, so will not impact the legislative timetable.
The legislation could be introduced defining more comprehensively the conditions for maintaining the health and welfare of puppies and kittens, in particular requiring the presence of the mother. If the Government wishes to allow local authorities discretion, that discretion should not extend to the definition of animal welfare.
The Government could also go on the record to confirm that local authorities are empowered to and could explicitly forbid the sale of puppies and kittens. The Pet Animals Act 1951 states that a local authority shall have 'discretion to withhold a licence on other grounds' and David Heath, former Minister of State for Agriculture and Food, stated in a written answer 4 that "conditions can be placed on individual pet shop licenses restricting the animals that can be sold".
There are no centrally held statistics on how many pet shops are licensed to sell puppies and kittens. We are in the process of conducting a full survey but shops have been identified in the following local authorities. According to DEFRA they are empowered to restrict the kinds of animals that can be sold and could act if they chose to do so:
- London Borough of Newham (Labour)
- Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames (Liberal Democrat)
- London Borough of Sutton (Liberal Democrat)
- London Borough of Ealing (Labour)
- London Borough of Harrow (Labour/Conservative)
- London Borough of Southwark (Labour)
- Surrey County Council (Conservative)
- London Borough of Hounslow (Labour)
- Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (Conservative)
- Wokingham Borough Council (Conservative)
- Salford City Council (Labour)
- Leeds City Council (Labour)
- Wiltshire Council (Conservative)
1. Please raise this matter in writing or in person with the relevant ministers, Lord de Mauley and George Eustice MP, who are responsible for the welfare of companion animals. Specifically, we need parliamentarians to explore with the Department why the proposed legislative changes are not possible.
2. Consider working with your local council to make a declaration that the area is committed to stamping out this practice.
4. Please also consider finding time to attend the debate. The more MPs who attend and speak in favour of a change in the law, echoing public opinion, the more likely it is that the Government will listen.
We have asked the Backbench Business Committee, subject to time allocated by Government, to consider a debate in the Chamber towards the end of March, following the Budget, and before the Easter recess.
1 The Pet Care Trust State of the Sector survey report 2008 of 2,820 pet retail businesses achieved a good response rate of 8.1% (228 responses) and showed that 2% of pet shops responding sold puppies.
2 Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding
3 According to a Dogs Trust survey.
4 House of Commons - Commons Written Answers - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 04.09.13