Battle continues against cruel puppy farming

Pete Wedderburn - Animal Doctor

Published 21/04/2015 | 00:00

Puppy farms treat dogs like commodities with no feelings.
Puppy farms treat dogs like commodities with no feelings.

Last week was a busy week on the puppy farming front: this controversial subject hit the news three times.

First, the Irish Pet Advertising Advisory Group (www.ipaag.ie) was launched, in response to concerns about the welfare of animals that are advertised online, including puppy-farmed animals. IPAAG is a coalition between leading Irish animal welfare organisations, the veterinary profession and websites that advertise pets for sale.

The internet has become the main method that people use to advertise pets for sale. The problem is that if such websites are not regulated in any way, there's a high risk of animals suffering. Examples include the sale of heavily pregnant animals, puppies that are too young to be rehomed, dogs for fighting, and worst of all, puppies from puppy farms.

Some people have called for online advertising of animals to be banned: the market-leading website, in particular, is often criticised with calls being made for it to stop selling animals. In fact, it would make no difference if this website stopped: if you google "puppies for sale" you will immediately find a dozen websites, all of which sell pups. The truth is that no government would be interested in stopping Irish online sales of pets. It would be pointless: websites based overseas would simply step into the gap, with an Irish section.

Additionally, the online advertising of pets has many positive aspects: it has become the main way that animal welfare groups find new homes for the pets that they have rescued. Each group has a Facebook page, full of animals looking for homes.

IPAAG aims to "clean up" the online sale of animals: the group has drawn up a list of minimum standards for online advertisements of animals, aiming to ensure that any illegal activity is identified and investigated. Example of the "rules" include the suspension of all adverts where there are concerns for the health and welfare of the animal for sale and requiring all adverts to include a photo of the animal and its age. People selling animals repeatedly will be monitored, and those who use multiple mobile telephone numbers and/or email addresses will be banned. You can read the full list of stipulations at www.ipaag.ie.

Websites that agree to be compliant with IPAAG standards will be allowed to carry the IPAAG logo, with links to IPAAG pages on advice for buying and selling pets. The public are to be encouraged to only buy puppies from IPAAG endorsed websites. The hope is the this system will gradually stamp out the worst of the online-led abuse of animals.

The second news story about puppies happened when the ISPCA, accompanied by the gardai, raided a registered puppy farm in Carlow. The conditions were described as "absolutely horrendous", with ISPCA Inspectors seizing 52 dogs of mixed breed and type. There were also dead animals scattered around the site. The rescued animals were transported to the ISPCA National Animal Centre in Longford where they received much-needed veterinary attention. Shortly after the raid, a closure notice was served on the premises and the remaining 250 dogs removed and cared for by the ISPCA and Dogs Trust, who worked together on this challenging situation.

It's only five years since Ireland introduced the "puppy farm legislation" in the form of the Dog Breeding Establishments Act 2010. What could be wrong that allowed such a disgraceful situation to occur on premises that were actually registered, and had been inspected by the local authority? The answer is simple: under the current rules, owners of dog breeding establishments are given several weeks notice before an inspection. This meant that the situation on the ground can be tweaked to comply with animal welfare regulations just at the time of the inspection. There is only one remedy for this: the introduction of random, unannounced spot checks of all registered puppy farms. The ISPCA is now calling on the government to introduce these.

The third puppy-related story was the showing of a BBC documentary titled "The Dog Factory". This programme included secretly filmed footage of Furnish Kennels in Fivemiletown, in County Fermanagh which claims to be the largest licensed dog breeding establishment in the UK. Breeding dogs and puppies were kept in battery-hen type conditions, with food dispensed by automatic feeders and minimal human contact. With our knowledge of the importance of socialisation and caring for puppies in creating a healthy, well-behaved adult dog, this type of situation should just not be allowed. Sheila Voas, chief veterinary surgeon with the Scottish government, told the programme: "It was barbaric. It was a production line. It was using animals as a commodity." Meanwhile, the Kennels' solicitor said that the premises are run in accordance with the law and Fermanagh District Council agreed. It's no surprise that the puppy farming legislation in the UK is also under review.

Puppies are the epitome of vulnerable, powerless creatures, and they deserve to be protected in our society. It's up to governments to take steps now to ensure that this happens.

Wexford People

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