Has A Decade Of Bans Changed Anything For Breeding Dogs?
With the UK set for a General Election in June it’ll be interesting to see how animal welfare features in party manifestos. When the Conservative party came to power two years ago I feared little would improve when it comes to puppy farming, they gave me no cause for optimism. Two years on and here we are again, electioneering is underway, politicians have the chance to pledge this and promise that, all of which may or may not be kept should they win power.
By coincidence when the election was called last week I was in the middle of discussing US politics and puppy breeding and selling legislation with Kim Kavin, author of the award winning book, The Dog Merchants. Our conversation was deep into the murky territory of claims and counter-claims as to the benefits for dogs in US puppy mills after a decade of retail bans. I value Kim’s perspective on these issues as her willingness to offer an unblinkered analysis based on all available information reflects her background as an investigative reporter. She thoroughly understands the US dog breeding industry and was recently interviewed by Forbes Magazine.
While I’ve been heartened to see the spread of US retail store bans and buoyed by claims the trend is putting the squeeze on commercial breeding operations questions have started niggling me. For instance, it’s hard to find any published evidence or statistics to confirm any squeeze or changes in practices of puppy mills or their presence in US states. As my understanding of the puppy trade has deepened, I’ve had prickles of doubt as to how effective simply targeting the end point of the puppy business chain might be. Is there a risk that by shifting attention from the source of suffering – poor welfare in breeding kennels/farms/mills call them what we will – to the point of sale little changes for the dogs stuck in the breeding facilities?
In the UK, retail stores are not a large slice of the puppy market. Putting aside issues in the breeding kennels, in order to have more than a token effect on the industry any legislation targeting sales would need to include online puppy sales. This is not on the cards in the UK. Looking at details of US retail bans that are in place, none as yet have included online puppy sales. Although in some reporting the bans are conflated with banning all sales of pups from puppy mills/commercial breeders giving the impression all sales from them are banned. This is wrong and serves only to confuse. The first bill to include online puppy sales is pending in New Jersey (incidentally Kim Kavin’s home state), with a Governor expected to veto. Kim told me,
Laws targeting online sales are unenforceable. One man just murdered another man here in America and broadcast the killing live on Facebook. We have a president who picks Twitter fights with other world leaders. Fake news sites are taking over Google search results. The internet is not a policeable place, especially when you’re talking about a nation of consumers who want 8 million pet dogs per year. How would anyone even start to monitor that type of business? What law enforcement agency is even remotely equipped to handle that, or interested in doing that, in the world of dogs?
Hard to argue with that reality. Kim went on,
Laws targeting online puppy sales are incompatible with the direction of our culture. People now spend more and more time online, and shop more and more online. This is especially true of the Millennials, who, we all know, never take their noses out of their smartphones. Try telling a 24-year-old that in order to buy something—anything—she has to either use her smartphone to make an actual telephone call or go in person somewhere to talk to another person in real life. Everything that young woman has known all her life tells her to just search on Google for “Labrador puppy” and click to order instead. We are not going to stop people from shopping online for dogs. My best guess, because of the habits of younger generations, is that the trend of online shopping for dogs will only increase. That means we should be enhancing and enforcing welfare laws at the source of the dogs (the breeding kennels), not trying to target the retail methods of delivery to the consumers.
While the language of consumerism makes me squirm and I loathe the fact that puppies are viewed in law as mere commodities that are bought and sold, this is the situation today. We’ve got to face it. And if we’re to be effective at stopping the suffering for dogs condemned to lives of breeding, it’s essential we keep the focus exactly where it needs to be: at source, in the breeding facilities themselves.
Without any of us knowing who’ll be in power on 9th June, it’s impossible to know if DEFRA will continue with recently announced proposals to extend and tighten licensing of breeders and sellers. So what do we do apart from sit and wait? Well, we could all ask our political representatives now, those who’ll want our votes in a few weeks time, to pledge to bring in tougher animal welfare laws that target the breeders of dogs. Get the focus firmly on what’s going on at source. It’s with them that the suffering is happening after all. Decent breeders should have nothing to worry about and welcome being required to adhere to high, enforced welfare standards applicable to everyone who chooses to breed their dogs. Of course, a pledge and a promise from today’s politicians can be a thing of highly variable worth. Whatever we do individually for the dogs, we must do with hope.
Look out for my next blog that will talk loopholes,rescues and dog auctions with further insights from the US and Kim Kavin. You can also read my review of The Dog Merchants here.