Our nation's love of dogs and the way we care for our pets often brings out the very best in human nature. But sadly when it comes to breeding, it can also bring out the worst. For most people, care for animals is instinctive, coming from a deep understanding of their vulnerability and need for love and attention. For a few heartless criminals, the huge demand for pets, dogs in particular, is viewed simply as an opportunity to make easy money, with no regard at all for the welfare of the animals that are at their mercy.
We have all seen pictures of scarred or malnourished animals in cages, which have been rescued from horrific circumstances. Or we have read stories about raids which have uncovered hundreds of puppies being farmed on a mass scale, perhaps imported from abroad, ripped apart from their mothers before they are even eight weeks old, and not given the food or vaccinations that they need. These stories move us to dig deep into our pockets, as they should.
But we cannot, and must not, stop there. It is not enough to simply rescue and treat animals - we need to go further than that and stop the abuse from happening in the first place. What is needed is political action which tackles the problem at its source, not just putting a sticking plaster over a problem when the damage has already been done.
What political action is needed? There are clear solutions for the problem of puppy farming. Battersea Dogs & Cats Home estimate that less than 12% of puppies born in Britain are bred by licensed breeders. It is vital that licences to breed dogs are made mandatory, so that when a breeder is found to be mistreating animals they can have their licence removed and a heavy financial penalty imposed. Mandatory licences could also give cash strapped local authorities the resources to enforce welfare standards and stamp out breeding abuses. It would mean that when a pet lover decides to buy a dog, they can check first whether the breeder has a licence so that they know if they are buying it from a legitimate seller. This provides protections both to animal welfare and also to consumers, who currently absurdly have more protection buying a fridge than a puppy.
There must also be a ban on the sale of puppies aged under eight weeks. These first few weeks are a critical stage in the life of a puppy and it needs to be with its mother, so that it develops well both socially and health-wise.
These solutions would make a tangible difference. While Liberal Democrats have been calling for a change to the law to protect puppies for many years, this need not be a party political issue. The issue of puppy farming is surely something that people of conscience across all parties can agree must be tackled.
On Monday I am speaking in Parliament and calling for the Government to do exactly that: not to see this as an issue just for Liberal Democrats and others who care about animal welfare to be speaking about - but to do the right thing and do what it takes to bring the horrific practice of puppy farming to a halt. This terrible trade has been going on far too long. It must stop now.
Baroness Parminter is a Lib Dem peer, deputy leader in the Lords & spokesperson for environment and rural affairsSuggest a correction