Pups are the waste by-product of puppy farms
Recently, on a televised discussion on puppy farming, I met an unfortunate group of sickly dogs who had been found abandoned. There were all victims of the puppy farming system: in my mind, they could be described as the waste by-product of the industry.
Nigel is a young Chihuahua with a severe type of hydrocephalus: his skull is high and domed, and excessive cerebrospinal fluid has gathered around his brain, applying pressure and disturbing his brain function. He walks with a high stepping gait, and he seems slightly dazed all the time.
Alma is a Shih Tzu who has such deformed front legs that she cannot walk normally: she is only three years old, but she moves like an elderly animal.
Ruby is a three year old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel with deformed front and hind legs. She finds it difficult to walk around normally.
Bobby is a Pug puppy whose muzzle is so flat, and nostrils are so narrowed, that he struggles to breathe. It's likely that he'll need surgery to open up his airways to allow him to live a comfortable life.
These dogs are from puppy farms. None of them came up to the standards needed to be sold as desirable designer dogs on the open market. The problem is that unlike other unwanted by-products from other industries, the dogs are living, sentient creatures. They cannot be discarded, or recycled: they have to live out their lives.
The four dogs were lucky enough to be rescued by animal welfare enthusiasts who will make sure that they have the best possible lives, given their deformities. It's worrying to think that there must be hundreds more dogs like these that are not so fortunate: I suspect that many are killed quietly, out of sight, but it's impossible to prove that. The recent secretly filmed video footage of unwanted greyhounds being mercilessly killed in Irish knackeries demonstrated that there are people out there who have no sense of responsibility and care when it comes to animals' lives. If greyhounds can be treated so brutally, why not unwanted dogs from puppy farms?
Many campaigners are, understandably, calling for more legislation to control puppy farms. The truth is that we already have strong legislation to control the breeding of dogs. We don't need to make wholesale changes to this: instead, we need to tighten up the legislation then enforce the laws properly.
Currently, anyone who has six or more entire female dogs is obliged to register as a Dog Breeding Establishment, and they then need to buy an annual licence from the local authority to be allowed to operate. There is a published set of guidelines on the construction and operation of a Dog Breeding Establishment: you can read these for yourself online. These are comprehensive guidelines, with their main fault being precisely that: they are only guidelines: they need to be made into compulsory standards. Many animal welfare groups, like the ISPCA, have issues with some aspects (e.g. there is no maximum number of dogs in an establishment, and the ratio of staff to dogs is one person to 25 dogs when it would make more sense to have one person per ten dogs). But overall, the guidelines ensure that there is, at least on paper, a reasonable level of regulation of the puppy farm industry in Ireland. Once a breeding establishment has been registered, it will be subject to random, unannounced inspections to ensure that the guidelines are being adhered to on a daily basis.
However, three serious problems remain.
First, it's likely that there are many dog breeders who are not registered as Dog Breeding Establishments. This may be legitimate (e.g. they have less than six breeding bitches) or it could be illegal ( if someone has more than six bitches who has declined to register). Either way, such breeders are outwith the control of local authorities, and they are not inspected. This means that their standards are not monitored and there is a serious risk that dogs suffer as a consequence.
Second, even if a dog breeder is registered, with reasonable standards in their establishments, there are no rules when it comes to the quality of the dogs produced. Nodody ensures that their pups are healthy.
Third, even though all puppies are legally obliged to be microchipped and registered in the breeder's name before they are sold, or before they change hands (if they are given away), this is a law that is widely ignored. If all puppies were microchipped, as they are meant to be, the breeders could then be held to account under consumer legislation if the puppies were later found to have serious problems. As it is, if puppies are not permanently identified with microchips, there's no way to track down the breeder.
So how can these three problems be tackled? The simple answer is full enforcement of the microchip laws. The websites that act as the marketplace for puppies should be obliged to display the microchip number of each puppy that is put up for sale.
If every pup was microchipped, it would be simple to identify the breeder of the pup at a later date, if the pup goes on to develop poor health. And the breeder could then be held accountable for these poor sick dogs.