Aside from the general excitement of going back to school (kids and parents alike!) September is also one of the times when families look for a dog to join the family. The weather is still mild for toilet training and short walks for puppies, and the household is in a routine, so they can settle in quickly.
Therefore it's an important time for animal welfare awareness raising too. PupAid founder and vet Marc Abraham uses a fun dog show in leafy Primrose Hill to highlight the issues around puppy farming. This week marks the start of Puppy Awareness Week, launched by the Kennel Club. Both these campaigns aim to stamp out the problems associated with puppy farming, where sometimes dangerously sick dogs are routinely sold to unsuspecting owners, with often disastrous consequences.
The thing that really baffles many of us is how this unscrupulous trade manages to continue, despite government awareness of the problem, and all the furore from all corners of the animal welfare world.
Well, the sad reality is that legislation is a complicated, time-consuming process. Having sat in many a Westminster meeting, and read several reports including RSPCA's Sold a Pup publication from earlier this year, I can only say that it is going to be a long time yet before any significant changes are made. And even if the law does change, enforcement of the rules will be a near impossible task for local authorities, brought to their knees with spending cuts and braced for more. So, like other ethical campaigns before it, ending puppy farming has to be moved into the hands of the consumer - just as buying power pushed for fair prices for coffee farmers in the early days of the Fairtrade movement.
We've had many discussions at NAWT about the problem, and of course will always promote rescue and rehoming as a practical, beneficial and cost-effective way of welcoming a new pet into your home (Why not view our animals now?). But even though we don't tend to rehome puppies, we see the repercussions down the line. We take in exhausted breeding bitches who have been dumped on the street. And expensive "crossbreeds" who have become difficult to manage due to their volatile temperament or the environment in which they live. Dealing with sign-overs on a near-daily basis teaches you a lot about Britain's real attitude to our pets, and the biggest lesson learned is: Education, Education, Education. Not once you have a dog, before you even look into getting one.
Puppy farming is big business - according to the RSPCA, 280,000 of the 700,000 puppies sold in the UK each year are thought to come from puppy farmers - and the sales techniques are specifically designed to exploit people at a vulnerable time, when you have already made an emotional investment in that cute fluffy ball pictured on your mobile phone. The internet makes it so easy that people don't really have to give it much thought.
The message used to be to make sure you saw the mother when visiting a dealer, but as Panomara revealed earlier this year in its episode Puppy Dealers Exposed "show mothers" will be brought in when a litter is being sold, and then moved on to other premises for the next litter.
Faced with this array of sophisticated exploitation machinery, how can you ever be sure that you are buying the real deal? The answer is to do your homework. But when we looked for resources to help people with their research, there was nothing.
So I'm proud to launch our Puppy Buyer's Checklist, which draws on all the NAWT's knowledge and insight to guide you through the purchasing process. It contains vital information and the few simple steps you should take to weed out dubious puppy suppliers - BEFORE you leave home.
We've included a little known fact about the new microchipping legislation - it is now a legal requirement for all breeders to microchip and register a puppy by the age of eight weeks before handing it over to the new owner. Think of it like the paperwork we're used to seeing when buying a secondhand car.
You can watch a video all about the microchipping of puppies here.
We've made the guide available to download and print off at home, and if you use it do let us know on our Facebook page or via our Twitter - please share it for us so others will know more too. And we're asking people to sign our Puppy Pledge. You don't need to be buying a puppy to sign, you're just taking an active part in spreading the message that when people think they might be "saving" an animal from an awful situation, they may in fact be unwittingly making it much worse.