How Best To Tackle The Puppy Trade?
There’s recently been an opportunity for everyone to contribute to the UK government’s consultations into the breeding, selling and welfare of animals. Reading the submissions what’s clear is that all the major organisations know that the puppy trade in its entirety needs tackling urgently. Several thorough investigations and reports have recently exposed the shocking scale of the problem including Battersea Dogs and Cats Home looking at backstreet unregulated breeding, to the RSPCA’s ‘Sold A Pup’ report and Dogs Trust’s investigations into illegal puppy smuggling. There’s little doubt that the flood of smuggled puppies from abroad has the government and media’s attention.
I recently asked Dogs Trust to tell me about their proposals for tackling the trade:
Dogs Trust believes that anyone breeding, selling or transferring the ownership of a dog, regardless of any financial transaction or gain, should be required to be registered. For this registration, we believe that there should be a link-up between individuals and their address so that it is possible to identify situations where multiple individuals are evading licensing by individually registering to breed or sell animals on the same premises.
In addition to this, we believe that anyone breeding, selling or transferring the ownership, regardless of any financial transaction or gain, of more than one litter of puppies should require a licence. Both license and registration numbers could then be displayed on online advertisements to give prospective puppy buyers more confidence in whom they were buying from.
Effective licensing is what most campaigners are calling for. Like Dogs Trust, the RSPCA want all involved in selling dogs to be licensed and for this to be bound closely to welfare standards; this would hit the whole trade, including illegal, legal and opportunistic hobby breeding. Everyone would come under one regime, thus sweeping away the current muddied mess that allows claims that being licensed equates to good and therefore by extension unlicensed must be bad. A blatantly untrue but easy pitch to trot out to unsuspecting buyers. If the RSPCA’s proposals are adopted, a level playing field will exist for all involved in selling puppies.
While these big organisations are lobbying government to tackle the entire puppy industry by introducing effective licensing, some campaigners target narrower aspects of the business. Pup Aid calls for a ban on third party sales, rather than licensing, although sadly, like the previous coalition government the present one shows no sign of engaging with this option (the current minister with responsibility, George Eustice rejected it in 2014 when it was debated in parliament and he hasn’t changed his stance since). I asked Dogs Trust to explain why they’re not specifically targeting third party sales:
Dogs Trust fully supports the principals behind a call to ban all third party sales of puppies. However this aspirational goal is not currently achievable for numerous reasons: it would be deemed to unfairly restrict trade from the EU and UK breeders are unable to fulfil the current demand for puppies so an indirect market would still flourish. The charity believes focusing on this suggestion as the panacea to prevent puppy farming and puppy smuggling is too simplistic and limits discussions about what is currently achievable to improve legislation around the sale of dogs and dog breeding.
There’s a recognition that what we’d like to see in a perfect world and what’s achievable right now are not the same, a reality that the writer and activist Rebecca Solnit describes in her book “Hope In The Dark”:
We are trying to build a politics of process, where the only certainty is doing what feels right at the right time and in the right place – a politics that doesn’t wait but acts in the moment, not to create something in the future but to build in the present, it’s the politics of the here and now.
The whole trade needs addressing, the numerous factors which must be considered are complex and I’m heartened to see consensus among the majority, while appreciating every individual effort made by anyone campaigning for the dogs, even if there are differences in emphasis. I especially admire those protesting outside petshops sometimes in the face of legal challenges like a group in Berkshire recently hit with a High Court Injunction.
Consumer demand for puppies is a major factor in the current climate and something the RSPCA say must be recognised when we consider how best to regulate the puppy trade:
We don’t believe that banning the third party sale would work – it would instead further drive the trade underground, with dealers continuing as they are – posing as ‘responsible breeders’ to trick unsuspecting buyers. Furthermore, banning third party sales will not stop the demand for puppies, whereas better regulation will go much further to improve welfare.
Many who have been campaigning for years understand that the puppy trade is riddled with unscrupulous individuals who are often streets ahead of those trying to stop their activities. Puppy Love Campaigns have much experience of dealing directly with those making a good living in the puppy trade and they agree that in the absence of much tougher regulation, including effective licensing of all involved, the trade will continue. A spokesperson told me:
We have had many conversations with puppy farmers of all kinds. Some sell to pet shops, but many don’t, in fact they produce so many pups, they need, and have, many different outlets. All over the country they’ve got friends and friends of friends, who sell pups for them. In fact, on more than one occasion when we’ve been undercover, we’ve been asked if we want to do it too.
One breeder asked us to consider selling her litters with or without mum present for £400 per pup, anything we could make over that was ours to keep. We’d also be paid for our ‘time and trouble’. Mum being present isn’t a problem for these people, they either transport mum before she whelps or after and when pups are sold she goes back to the shed to start again.
But there are worries that the government won’t be robust enough in what they introduce to control the puppy trade and licensing requirements won’t be as tough as some want, which is licensing of everyone, irrespective of how many litters are bred each year.
I hope the government listen to those who know that the puppy trade can and must be controlled by effective regulation of every individual involved in the breeding and selling of dogs. If all are legally required to fulfill the same licensing demands, the puppy trade will be made harder to operate in and a lot less lucrative. And we’ll be a big step closer to a perfect world for the dogs, an ideal many will spend their lives trying to achieve while along the way celebrating any victories there are.
Rebecca Solnit says it well:
Their grumpiness is often the grumpiness of perfectionists who hold that anything less than total victory is failure, a premise that makes it easy to give up or to disparage the victories that are possible. This is earth. It will never be heaven. There will always be cruelty, always be violence, always be destruction.
For the dogs I’ll keep fighting for a perfect world, with hope.