When we buy a new puppy, we would like to think that it has had a good start in life and will be healthy and well socialised. Unfortunately for many puppies bought in this country, whether purebred or crossbred, the reality is much less pleasant.
At present a licence is required to run a dog breeding establishment (with 5 or more breeding bitches) in England, Scotland or Wales. Licensed premises are inspected by the local authority to ensure they meet certain minimum standards, but it is thought that there are many illegal unlicensed premises, the so-called “puppy farms”.
It has been widely reported in the media recently that the Welsh Assembly is considering steps to close down or regulate Welsh puppy farms which churn out high numbers of puppies for profit, with little regard to their health or welfare. The proposals being considered include compulsory microchipping of puppies, to allow traceability, an improvement in the ratio of staff to dogs and more regard to conditions including behaviour and socialisation. Stricter licensing laws could be in place by 2011.
Many organisations have campaigned against the existence of puppy farms, including the Kennel Club, the RSPCA and the Dogs Trust.
Puppy farms keep breeding bitches under intensive conditions. Bitches are bred from too frequently, too young and regardless of suitability. Often there is a lack of cleanliness, bedding and health care, so sickly puppies result. Puppies leave their mothers when they are still too young and unvaccinated. The conditions which a puppy experiences in the first six weeks of life are absolutely crucial to the dog’s development and behaviour in later life, so a puppy which has little human contact is very likely to have problems. Record keeping can be inadequate, so although pups may have pedigree papers, they may be meaningless.
Some puppy farms go to great lengths to make themselves appear to be reputable breeders, and the buyers of the pups will never see the actual conditions in which the pups have been reared. If pups are sold over the phone or on the internet and then transported to another location to be handed over, the new owner may not even be aware that their puppy was bred under these conditions.
The ideal way to avoid this is to find a breeder by personal recommendation or by using the Kennel Club list of accredited breeders. Visit the litter while it is still with the mother (or both parents if possible). Insist on seeing the pup in the conditions in which it is housed so that you can judge for yourself whether the conditions are clean and appropriate. The offer to deliver a puppy to your home or to a halfway service station may sound convenient, but should be resisted. What has the breeder got to hide? Beware of sellers who advertise several or many different breeds. Expect a breeder to ask questions about the sort of home you would be providing for their puppy.
The most difficult thing of all is not to buy a puppy because you feel sorry for it. If a buyer accidentally finds themselves viewing a puppy which is unwell, or in poor condition, the big temptation is to buy it to remove it from that situation. In the short term, that will help the individual puppy, but more money going to the puppy farm will just perpetuate the trade. Bad conditions should be reported to the local authority or to an appropriate charity or organisation with the powers to investigate. That way more puppies will be helped in the future by closing down or cleaning up unscrupulous puppy farms.