Monday 21 October 2019

Shocking story of Ireland's unregulated puppy farms

ATV3 documentary, Animal A&E Investigates: The Truth About Ireland's Puppy Farms, was broadcast this week. The programme told a shocking story. Ireland is still Europe's 'puppy farm capital'.

Puppy farms continue to thrive, with dogs being treated like hens in battery cages in the lucrative trade of puppy production. There is no regulation of any kind on the activities of puppy farmers. As long as they do not starve their animals or inflict physical injury on them, there is nothing that the law can do to stop them.

Dogs may be kept in cramped conditions, with no access to light, food or clean water. They may be covered in fleas, with dirty, matted coats. Sometimes, farmed dogs are kept in containers so small that they cannot even stand up, forcing them into a permanent crouched position. Their nails may be overgrown because of the constant inactivity. For the past decade, animal welfare groups have been urging successive governments to take action to stop this abuse of animals, but, astonishingly, in 2011, there is nothing illegal about keeping dogs in these conditions. Even when such puppy farms are identified, there is nothing that anyone can do to stop the proprietors from continuing in business.

Most people in this country probably thought that the puppy farm problem had been solved. Back in July 2010, anti-puppy farm legislation titled The Breeding Establishment Bill 2011 was passed by the Dáil. This was welcomed by all of those working in the animal welfare area, and there was a collective sigh of relief when the bill was voted through. All that had to happen next was for the Minister for the Environment to sign off on the legislation. Normally, you'd expect that this would happen in a timely fashion. After all, the country, via the Dáil, has expressed its democratic opinion. Surely the Minister has a duty to sign off on the Dáil's decisions?

There have been three Ministers for the Environment since the vote was passed: one Green, one Fianna Fáil, and one Fine Gael. Yet the Breeding Establishments Bill remains unsigned, and puppy farmers are allowed to continue as before. What's going on?

There is a reason for the delay, but it's still difficult to understand. It's to do with what might be described as choreography, or diplomacy, or to be less kind, concession to a powerful lobby. Greyhound owners and breeders were worried that their activities would be stifled by legislation that was primarily aimed at the breeding of pet pedigree dogs.

When the puppy farm legislation was being debated, a compromise was negotiated to satisfy the greyhound industry. It was agreed that greyhounds would be excluded from the new Breeding Establishments Bill, on the condition that the welfare and breeding of greyhounds would be adequately protected via another new piece of legislation – the Welfare of Greyhounds Bill. This other new bill has to be passed by the Dáil before the puppy farm legislation is signed on the dotted line. The plan is that the two pieces of legislation will then come into effect at exactly the same time.

The new Greyhounds Bill was meant to be introduced in early 2011, but the collapse of the Fianna Fáil/Green coalition at that time meant that everything fell by the wayside. It's only now, as we reach the end of 2011, that the Greyhound Bill is moving through the senate. It's hoped that it will be passed rapidly through the Dáil after that, and the Minister for the Environment will then finally be in a position to sign off on both piece of legislation. Only at that stage will dogs – greyhounds as well as pet dogs – will be given the protection that they deserve.

I know what many people may be thinking: with the country in economic chaos, why worry about puppies? I've had this argument many times, and my answer is that if we live in a so-called civilised country, we need to continue to do whatever it takes to remain civilised. It's not as if every government employee is fully occupied dealing with the economy: the state employs many thousands of civil servants, and most of them are involved in the normal day-to-day running of this country. Why shouldn't they deal with issues relating to animal welfare, just as they deal with many other details of our daily lives?

I suspect that last night's television footage was enough to convince many people of the pressing need for action. Dogs are intelligent, social creatures, and they suffer when they are confined to concrete pens, kept in darkness, with scant attention paid to their welfare needs.

Puppies are valuable commodities; large amounts of money can be made by producing high numbers of them, and in Ireland, this can still be done with no regulation whatsoever. Puppy farmers can still just do exactly what they want, behind closed doors.

The government needs to be encouraged to continue rapidly along the path of enacting the legislation that's in the pipeline. And when both of the new Bills are in place, there will be another challenge: making sure that the new legislation is enforced. It will be up to local authorities to ensure that puppy farms are registered and inspected, and that action is taken to close down those establishments that fail to meet the required standards.

I'd love to say that this TV3 programme programme was the last time that I saw puppy farms on Irish television, but I'm not feeling optimistic.

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