For anyone who cares about animals, the scale of suffering that they endure today can be mightily upsetting. Looking at the UK puppy farming business alone, the number of dogs who are exploited is shocking. I live with two of them, who only just survived years of being trapped in the vast puppy breeding machine that turns out puppies for quick profit. If I stop and ponder their past it swiftly leads me into a state of misery, let alone if I allow myself to think about all the many thousands they left behind. So I dump the pondering and get active, researching and networking with others around the world who are battling to bring in a better future for dogs.
The puppy business is a thriving global concern. It has a simple, universally attractive business model: one based on keeping down costs (e.g. care, food, comfort, company) while selling the product (aka puppies) quickly. It fits well into a society which favours convenience over quality and sees puppies like any other quick-buy consumer item. Having hard-to-shift stock is not good, so prices might be cheap. But not always, not if a particularly desirable product is identified - right now think chihuahuas, oodles and poos of all sorts, Frenchies, pugs and so on. By the way, I dislike talking about dogs in terms of trade and commerce - I wrote the words taking a deep breath and sending an apology out to dogs around the world - but this is the reality driving a lot of puppy breeding today. Commerce.
International commerce to be precise. There's big, easy money to be made from puppies and it's never been easier for dealers, traders and farmers to plough a rich furrow and make a killing. Literally in some cases. If we look at Europe alone, there have been many news stories in the UK illustrating national problems on a shocking scale, compounded by imports of puppies from terrible breeding places across Europe.
Addressing the international nature of the puppy breeding business is vital if the industry is to be brought to an end. One that's supported both tacitly and explicitly by governments around the world, even if their electorates don't know it, or choose not to believe it. I'm convinced that once the first government does what campaigners are demanding and brings in tough, uncompromising legislation that bans the factory farming of dogs there will eventually be a domino effect on governments in other countries.
I've long followed the work of the Australian campaign group Oscar's Law whose founder Debra Tranter has been campaigning for two decades to end puppy farming. In Australia, while it's heartening to see individual states starting to address the issues, thousands of dogs are flown around the country to be sold miles away from where they are bred. The problem moves around. It's only by taking a federal approach that things will get better.
While campaigners rightly focus on local problems - after all they're massive enough in themselves - I'm an advocate for joining our voices globally. Social media is a great asset to activists as it makes it a lot harder for the worldwide industry to hide its secrets. From the US, South Africa, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, most European countries, all these governments are enabling an industry to thrive. We have to make our voices heard by legislators but more than this, we need to make those who are providing the market be aware of what they're complicit in. It's the puppy buying public in all these countries that's keeping business booming. Campaigners need to use all and every media available to reach into not only the hearts, but the purchasing minds of the masses who are buying.
There's a couple of films that have got me optimistic over the past year about the impact they will have on the public. The past week has seen the release of the US film Dog By Dog and while aspects are US specific, the similarities between what goes on in the US puppy mill industry and what's happening in Australia, South Africa, Canada, the UK and beyond are inescapable. In a recent interview Executive Producer, Chris Ksoll, nails the problem facing all of us, in whatever country we are:
It all comes down to money. Large-scale dog breeders do not have the political muscle to influence state and federal politicians
She goes on to say that in the US
the AKC and large agriculture corporations are funding the opposition to any meaningful legislation or enforcement of laws to protect these breeding dogs.
Similar forces exist in every country that's mass breeding dogs. Agencies differ, national variations exist, but in all cases it's the same: money talks with a powerful voice. Karen Doonan, co-producer on Dog By Dog and advocate for puppy mill dogs has long had the insight that only by bringing the global nature of the industry to the forefront will meaningful change happen.
Whether you call them puppy mills in the US, puppy farms in the UK or puppy factories in Australia, it all boils down to one common factor: money. We need one government to stand up and say enough is enough and to encourage their neighbours to join suit.
Australia will add its own film to the growing international force for change that's being helped by the use of effective documentaries when the Oscar's Law backed film, Dogs is made and released. Film is a powerful medium that puppy farmers and politicians will find hard to hide from and one day, maybe a UK film will join the ranks. Then again, perhaps the day will come first when it's not needed and the UK leads the way, bringing in progressive legislation that outlaws the kind of puppy breeding practices that are condemning millions of dogs worldwide to lives beyond our darkest imaginings of misery. Roll on that day.