The Price of Puppy Farms

We all know that the pandemic, and the associated lockdowns, brought about an explosion in pet ownership. Sadly, this sudden increase in demand saw some unscrupulous breeders putting profit over principles (which they appear to be totally devoid of) leading to an increase in unlicensed, illegal breeding.

You may have heard of ‘puppy farms’ – they’re nothing like the typical agricultural ‘farms’ that we know and love. They’re mass breeding centres where dogs are often kept in cramped, dimly lit, unsanitary cages with little or no activity, stimulation or exercise and, as a result, suffer from physical and psychological trauma. Dogs are treated simply as ‘breeding machines’ with no consideration whatsoever for their health and wellbeing. Over-breeding, or breeding too young, has devastating consequences for the mothers and in-breeding or breeding for specific traits leads to long-term health issues for the pups. Puppies are taken away from their mothers too young, terrified, malnourished and not provided with the necessary veterinary care or treatment. These factors combined certainly don’t give the puppies a strong start and, if they do survive against the odds, they’re often plagued with lifelong health problems as well as behavioural and socialisation issues. It absolutely breaks my heart to think of dogs being exploited in this way but this criminal breeding happens all over the world and many individuals, charities and organisations have been fighting against puppy farms for years.

Ironically, in April 2020, just after the first UK lockdown began, a new law known as ‘Lucy’s Law’ was passed in the UK.

This was a real breakthrough in the fight against puppy (and kitten) farms and was the result of over 10 years of campaigning lead by media vet and author Marc Abraham, supported by a number of high-profile names including Ricky Gervais, Brian May, Rachel Riley and Peter Egan. Unlicensed, illegal puppy farms often rely on third-party ‘dealers’ to sell their puppies which is what the campaigners behind Lucy’s Law sought to outlaw. The new law, which came into place in England on 6th April 2020, means that “anyone wanting to get a new puppy or kitten in England must now buy direct from a breeder or consider adopting from a rescue centre instead. Licensed dog breeders are required to show puppies interacting with their mothers in their place of birth.” (Source: gov.uk)

Lucy’s Law was named after a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who was rescued in 2013 from a puppy farm where she endured terrible conditions. She was adopted and cared for by a new owner, but sadly the health problems that she suffered as a result of the endless breeding took their toll and she died in 2016. In memory of Lucy (and the countless other dogs who’ve been subjected to similar abuse) the new law seeks to cut off these unlicensed breeders’ way of selling, by making it illegal to buy a pup from anyone other than a licensed breeder or a rescue centre. Without their middle-men, it’s very hard for the puppy farms to continue trading.

Now, there’s no doubt that this is a huge breakthrough and a serious step forwards in the fight against puppy farms, so you may be wondering about my use of the word ‘ironically’ above … well, sadly the timing of the new law coming into effect may have diminished its impact somewhat. As the UK was within the throes of its first national lockdown, people were unable to travel but nonetheless the demand for pets was rising, with many seeking a furry companion and all this time at home seemingly presenting an ‘ideal opportunity’ to get a new pet (as I’ve mentioned before, this was only actually the case for those who’d been considering getting a pet anyway and could

guarantee to give it the long-term time, care and attention it needed after life went back to normal … but that’s another matter!). Anyway, I digress… people wanted pets but were unable to travel – so emergency measures allowed puppies and kittens to be delivered to new owners at their home address. Unsurprisingly, unscrupulous breeders exploited this situation by selling online and delivering pups directly to buyers’ homes. We’ve all seen that it’s easy to present a very different impression online so they’d use stolen photographs of a happy mother with her litter, or ‘stage’ video calls where buyers could allegedly see their contented, healthy pup with its mother and siblings. Prices soared and desperate consumers paid the ever-escalating costs. It really was an ideal situation for these illegal breeders and they certainly made the most of it. It has been estimated by The Kennel Club that a horrifying one in four puppies bought during lockdown could be from puppy farms, with new owners missing ‘red flags’ during the purchase of their new pet. Some were fooled by dodgy breeders’ ‘smoke and mirrors’ tactics (the government’s ‘Petfished’ campaign highlights how easy it is for deceitful sellers to convince buyers that their new pet is healthy and from a happy home) while, unfortunately, there were also other owners during lockdown who impulse bought and, in their haste, simply neglected to ask questions or check out the legitimacy of the breeder before buying their pup.

For these puppies, it’s sadly too late. The best we can now hope for is that they found loving homes and their owners will commit to a lifetime of love, offering the additional support, training, socialisation and veterinary care they’ll need to help them to overcome their terrible start in life. Unfortunately this won’t be the case for all and it’s inevitable that some will be abandoned or surrendered once their additional healthcare needs or behavioural issues become apparent.

However, now that Coronavirus restrictions have been lifted we can hope that the full impact of Lucy’s Law is felt and we can finally see an end to these appalling puppy farms, in England at least.

If you’re thinking of buying a puppy (or kitten), there are a number of things you can check or look out for, to avoid buying from illegal breeders and make sure that your new four-legged friend is happy, healthy and from a genuine, caring, licensed breeder:

– Never agree to have your puppy or kitten delivered or meet halfway. You should ALWAYS view your puppy with their mother and the rest of the litter before buying, in their home environment. Ideally this should be in person and not via video call.

– Be wary of people advertising puppies or kittens from many litters or different breeds

– Check the contact details on the advertisement by copying and pasting them into a search engine. If the same contact details come up on many different adverts or selling sites, alarm bells should start ringing!

– Check their age – puppies and kittens shouldn’t be sold under 8 weeks old so don’t trust any breeder who’s trying to sell them younger

– Check healthcare records – reputable breeders should share details of vaccinations, flea and worm treatment and microchipping

For more advice on how to responsibly buy a new pet, visit https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/dogs/puppy/sales or https://getyourpetsafely.campaign.gov.uk/

Or, of course, you could consider adopting to give an animal a loving home and a much-needed second chance at happiness!