BBC School Report on Puppy Farming and the Kennel Club
Last week I wrote about 12 year old Aimee, who took part in the BBC School Report. Aimee, together with her friend Olivia, interviewed Bill Lambert, Health and Breeder Services Manager for the Kennel Club about puppy farming. The full report by Aimee and her friends has been praised for its extensive coverage of a difficult topic and it will soon be available on her school’s website and social media. Aimee’s kindly provided the recording and transcript of the interview and is happy for me to publish it here. Have a listen and I’m sure, like me, you’ll be impressed by their questions and focus.
After listening to the interview, I was struck by how the answers given by Bill Lambert are much the same that I’ve heard over the years from the Kennel Club. Little seems to change as the years roll on even though the scale and suffering in today’s puppy industry expand at alarming rates. Of course, when it’s the first time you hear the responses to pertinent questions, it can be easy to take them at face value, but really, the Kennel Club need pinning down. The spiel needs challenging. Their role in enabling puppy farmers to sell puppies with Kennel Club papers needs to be much more widely acknowledged and pressure on them to change their systems should come from us all who can see past the platitudes and excuses.
I’ve jotted down a few of my own thoughts that came quickly to mind when hearing Bill Lambert’s responses to Aimee and Olivia.
BBC SCHOOL REPORT INTERVIEW 10th March 2018
LOCATION: THE PRESS ROOM, CRUFT’S, NEC, BIRMINGHAM
Aimee: Firstly, thank you Mr Lambert for agreeing to this interview. My name is Aimee and this is Olivia. We attend Corpus Christi High School in Cardiff.
Olivia: We are reporters for the BBC School Report scheme doing a special report on Puppy Farming. Puppy Farming is an issue that even us as schoolchildren are trying to tackle.
Aimee: The Kennel Club is 145 years old this year and we would like to ask you some questions as to why it is continuing and why people are looking to the Kennel Club for more action.
Olivia: What are the main health problems suffered by dogs that come from puppy farms?
BL: Well there are a number of health conditions, probably the biggest problem in buying puppies from Puppy Farms is that these dogs are kept in very poor conditions. If the dogs are kept in poor conditions they are susceptible to infections diseases but they also have issues with socialisation. Now it is very important when you bring up puppies when puppies aren‘t with their mother, they have got to have lots of interaction with people otherwise they don’t get used to having people around and they don’t make good pets so that’s the biggest issue with socialisation but puppies that are kept in bad conditions can suffer from diseases such as campylobacter, infectious diseases, something called parvo virus – a very infectious disease that puppies can die from and the chances of puppies dying from these conditions are greatly increased if they are kept in poor conditions.
Aimee: The KC Assured Breeder scheme has around 7000 members and in 2013 they bred around 31,000 puppies. However in the UK one in every three puppies still comes from puppy farms. Is the Kennel Club doing enough to help stop puppy farms or kennels that are the same thing?
BL: We try to do everything that we can. The issue that we have is that the Kennel Club only registers between 30-40% of dogs bred in the UK so there is a huge amount that we have no control over. The other thing is that if we start to put real restrictions on people registering with us we will actually lose any power to influence those people. So if we know the people who are registered with us, who breed with us, who own those dogs, if we know that information then we can actually try to encourage those people to do the right things. If we bring in lots of restrictions and make it harder for people to register with us they will simply go away and we will lose them forever so we will have no influence. We are not like the Government, we cannot put in laws to say breeders must do this or must do that. We have to try to keep people with us under our umbrella rather than force them away.
JH: But of the 30-40% that the Kennel Club does have ‘control over’ why are ANY of those puppies being registered by people who operate puppy farms? If the Kennel Club concentrated just on the 30-40% it has control over, that would make a significant difference to many thousands of dogs.
Instead of ‘encouraging’ people ‘to do the right things’ how about requiring that they do so as a condition of being able to register puppies with the Kennel Club. Enforcing your own rules that would protect the dogs, with sanctions that are imposed would seem an obvious, ethical step when we see the scale of suffering in the puppy industry today.
Keeping people under your umbrella is not making a lot of difference to the unfortunate dogs kept by puppy farmers who register under the Kennel Club umbrella.
Olivia: Do you think the average puppy buyer understands the difference between KC papers, KC registered and assured breeders?
BL: No I don’t think they do. We’ve spent many many years building up the value of Kennel Club registrations. Kennel Club registration is very important because it does give you information about the dogs and once we’ve registered those we can actually attach information, we can keep health records and health information attached to it. But it’s not a registration system for the breeder and that’s what the Assured Breeder Scheme is so there’s a big difference. Registration system for what we call Kennel Club registered is actually a register of the dog but the Assured Breeder Scheme is a register of the breeder and those breeders who are under the Kennel Club’s Assured Breeder Scheme are under far more restrictions and have far many more rules which they have to adopt to keep being members of that scheme and keep breeding dogs with us.
JH: A clear admission that the public has no clue about the differences between the Schemes and yet those schemes stay in place. And presumably no plans to drop what must be a lucrative system either, despite the public confusion that’s recognised here.
Aimee: Why does the KC allow puppy farmers to register their puppies with the KC and fool the average puppy buyer if they do not know the difference?
BL: Well there is a Licensing system in the UK and that is the responsibility of the Local Authorities so you have to have a breeding licence if you are currently breeding more than 5 litters. In fact, in Wales it is if you are breeding more than 3 litters. So that is the Government’s responsibility. Now it does come back to what I was saying about encouraging those people to keep with us. If we were actually to say, right……. First of all we have to define what a puppy farm is and that’s not quite as simple as it may seem. Our view is that a puppy farm is a large scale breeder who puts profit above health and welfare. Not all large dog breeders are bad and we have large breeders on our Assured Breeder scheme such as Guide Dogs for the Blind who breed lots and lots of puppies but they breed them all in good conditions so it’s not just about the numbers. It’s about how many are bred and how poorly they are bred. But again it’s about keeping those people with us. If we actually just don’t allow those people to register with us at all they would just be completely under the radar and we won’t know who they are, where they are and what they are doing.
JH: And we go back to the fact the KC knows who the puppy farmers are, which is making absolutely no difference whatsoever to the dogs. So why is it so important to know who they are, where they are, and what they are doing, if the Kennel Club does absolutely nothing to stop licensed puppy farmers registering litters with them?
And, as they are licensed, by definition, their business and location will still be known even if the Kennel Club scrapped their registration scheme which allows puppy farmers to register litters. The argument that it’s of some benefit (beyond the Kennel Club’s finances) that the KC know who and where they are seems a lot of hot air when we look beyond the words.
Olivia: Why don’t the Kennel Club scrap all the registrations except those through the Assured Breeder Scheme?
BL: Again unfortunately it’s the same answer. It’s because we are trying to keep people with us to know where they are. Currently we only register between 30 and 40% ok, so now if we were to just say they’d have to be with the Assured Breeder scheme that would bring that number down to about 5% or less than that so we would have even less control or influence and it’s only by having influence. If you go around Crufts today you can see, if you go to the Kennel Club stand or the Crufts stand for example, there is lots of information people can pick up there about breeding dogs, about what they should look for. The puppy buyers they have to actually play a part in this as well because the puppy buyers are the people who are making the choices where they buy their dogs from. So again it is trying to keep people with us, trying to give positive messages and trying to influence people to do the right thing.
JH: that empty argument keeps on coming. But now the puppy buyers are mentioned, remember a couple of questions back when the fact the differences in the registration schemes aren’t understood anyway by the public was admitted? Mmmmm.
Aimee: Do the KC put money before animal welfare?
BL: No they certainly don’t. The KC is a not for profit business, we’re not here to, we haven’t got shareholders, we’re not trying to make money. All the money that we get, when we make money, if we make a profit at the end of the year, a lot of that money goes back into our charitable trust and our charitable trust actually spends money on good causes. You will see a lot of the welfare organisations out here and the rescue organisations, we help those organisations, all of our health initiatives, all of our assured breeder scheme, for example don’t, they run at a loss. We actually make that money available for those initiatives to actually continue. So if we didn’t make any money all of those things would have to stop.
JH: Really, it is the very least that the Kennel Club can do, but I can’t be the only one to see the irony of money coming in from the suffering of dogs in puppy farms then going out to good causes.
Olivia: Currenty the KC charge £15 for an Assured Breeder to register a puppy and only £2 more for a non-assured breeder to register a puppy. Why don’t the KC club charge more for non assured breeders to register a puppy?
BL: well I think I would agree with that. I think that the differential between the £15 and a non-assured breeder to register a puppy should be larger. I personally would like to see assured breeders having to pay half the price to register their puppies than other breeders do but we’re not quite there yet and that’s something that I have to have an internal argument inside the KC to try to persuade the KC to take that view.
JH: or, here’s an idea, just run the Assured Breeder Scheme? Scrap the misleading 2-tier system that the public don’t understand (which has been admitted a few questions back), but which allows puppy farmers to sell puppies as something ‘sepcial‘ and with a price tag that often reflects that.
Aimee: do you think the KC could do more to hit puppy farmers where it hurts in their pockets?
BL: that’s a difficult question, again anyone can register with the KC and it’s a little bit like if you have a car and you drive a car on the road, it has to be registered with the DVLA, the government’s licensing regime. We’re like that. We don’t restrict people from actually registering their dogs with the KC and we do have some basic restrictions, for example, we won’t allow people to register puppies from a bitch that’s under a year old, we don’t let them register from a bitch that’s more than 8 years old, so we have some basic welfare restrictions. The other thing that we do is because all of our information is in the public domain, people can go and find out how many people are breeding and what they’re doing so that’s almost a self-policing mechanism so that actually having that information out there it makes those breeders accountable. If we were to switch that off and make it actually harder for people of course we would lose all of that information. So I think the truth is that we can always do more, there is always more that you can be doing to try to improve animal welfare and we’re on that road, that’s what we’re trying to do all the time.
JH: I’m not even sure where to start with this and DVLA analogy! I can’t follow the logic. But, we come back to the plain fact that while there may be information held by the Kennel Club and publicly available, this is quite obviously not benefiting dogs in puppy farms. Not one bit of it. And is relying on a self-policing system really an intelligent, or ethical stance for an organisation professing to put animal welfare first, to take in a multi-million pound industry that’s rotten to its core with cruelty and greed?
Olivia: What is your answer to those who say the KC is the only organisation that makes a profit from the misery of farmed dogs and campaigns against it at the same time?
BL: well I don’t think that’s quite true. We work with a lot of welfare organisations, for example, every single breed that we have here will have a breed rescue. Now if every single breeder was responsible for example our Assured Breeders have to take responsibility for puppies throughout their lifetime. Now we do not make a profit out of the Assured Breeder scheme. We actually fund that scheme, we put all that money into it, so we certainly are one of the most active organisations out there for putting information and money into education for breeders. Now that said, can we do more, yes of course we can do more. The welfare organisations are slightly different from us. We are the only organisation that supports dog breeding because good dog breeding done well is very good. We think that people buying puppies have a far better chance of selecting the right breed that’s right for them, buying from a good breeder, buying a puppy that’s well socialised, that has been reared in a lovely family environment, we think that is a very good way of buying a puppy. And those puppies, if they’re bred well, then they have far less chance of going into a rescue shelter because they’ve had to be rehomed so it’s about trying to get people to do the right thing from day one and because of that dog breeding can be a good thing. Unfortunately a lot of the other organisations that we work with, the charities for example, they see the result of very poor breeding and one of the arguments often used is, oh so people shouldn’t breed dogs all the time there are dogs in shelters and rescue centres. That argument doesn’t quite work because every single one of those dogs has been bred by someone, has been bred by a breeder, so our aim is to try and make those breeders do the right thing so those dogs don’t end up in the shelters.
JH: Gone quite a long way from the point of the question here Bill. The point was, the Kennel Club is making money from puppy farming – that is a fact that will remain all the time that puppy farmers are able to register litters with the KC. It would make the biggest statement possible that the Kennel Club really is serious about ending puppy farming, if it was to scrap the scheme which puppy farmers pay into, and only operate the Assured Breeder Scheme.
Aimee: how is awareness of puppy farming being presented in Crufts this weekend?
BL: Well we have lots of information, if you go out into the halls you will see all the rescues represented out there. At the KC stand we have lots of information where people should go to buy a puppy. The unfortunate thing is that some of the puppy farmers are very clever and they don’t actually…….we try to steer people away from puppy farms by saying go to a good breeder because the puppy farms can be very clever and will often say to people, oh don’t come to me, I’ll bring the puppy to you or I’ll meet you at a service station or unfortunately you can’t see the puppy with its mother for lots of other reasons. Simply because they do not want you to go to their premises and see where the dogs are bred. So we want people to go to buy a puppy from the place where the puppy is bred, from where the puppy is reared so they can make their own minds up. Now the unfortunate thing is that once people go to a dog breeder, even if they see the puppies in very poor conditions, they will very often still go ahead and buy that puppy because they feel sorry for it.
So our message is go to a good breeder because that way if you go to a breeder that we’ve recommended like one of our Assured Breeders, you know already before you even turn up that that breeder has been inspected, we can vouch for them, we know they’ve done all the right things.
JH: yes, and if it comes with Kennel Club papers, or is advertised as KC registered, the sales are even more likely to happen, even though the puppies and their parents live in puppy farms.
Olivia: Thank you very much for your time today.