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What Is The Pet Industry Federation (PIF) Hiding From Us - And Why?

17/08/2015 22:18 BST | Updated 17/08/2016 10:59 BST

Selling puppies through pet shops is believed by many to be illegal. With what experts now know about the complex needs and welfare requirements of the developing puppy, as well as the pet shop representing just a small part of the chain originating hundreds of miles away on a puppy farm, it should of course be illegal; and we are striving to ensure that it does become illegal in the near future.

Puppy farming is a huge problem in the UK (and abroad) and one that is very difficult to address at source, but the only legal outlet for the majority of these breeders is through third party sellers holding pet shop licenses.

By definition, no responsible breeder would ever dream of selling their precious pups through a pet shop so this leaves only one point of supply. Serious health and behavioural issues associated with puppy farming are only compounded by the method of sale, so it's likely that the majority of puppies purchased from pet shops will be negatively impacted in some way from suffering such a poor start in life - even if not immediately apparent.

Worse still, many owners are unaware they've purchased their puppy from a pet shop as these days many licensed pet shops are not contained within traditional high street retail premises; examples include garden centres and private dealers posing as breeders.

Sheer ease of purchasing from third party sellers, often on impulse, may also entice owners to buy a cute, fluffy puppy rather than consider rehoming a perfectly healthy rescue dog which continues to patiently wait behind bars to be picked, or worse, destroyed due to surplus.

It's pretty obvious then that banning the sale of puppies though pet shops at a stroke would naturally reduce, even eliminate many of the problems associated with 'puppy farming', from not just a canine overpopulation and animal welfare perspective, but consumer protection and public health aspect too.

There is absolutely no justifiable reason for anyone to oppose a ban - unless of course they stand to benefit in some way from this trade. The Pet Industry Federation (PIF) unfortunately appears to represent one such example, and this organisation - whose membership includes hundreds of UK pet businesses - seems to be doing its level best to hinder progress towards any ban.

Back in April, PIF claimed to have successfully tackled the "complex issues involved in protecting the welfare of puppies" sold through pet shops. PIF's CEO Nigel Baker wrote an article for Dog World newspaper titled 'Politics and Puppies', responding to intense criticism levelled against PIF for continuing to defend, support, and indeed promote this despicable third party trade in puppies.

Mr Baker proudly announced that PIF had developed a 'Quality Audit' for those of its members who sold puppies from their premises, outlining some aspects of his scheme described as an "enormous step forward". Mr Baker also encouraged us, as well as all anti-puppy farming supporters, to freely engage in constructive discussion with PIF, and recognise the progress that had been made by the launch of this Audit.

It therefore seemed likely that full details of PIF's Audit criteria including names of retailers that had successfully passed would be imminently appearing on PIF's website. After all, Mr Baker stated that any puppy selling retailer should snap up the opportunity to be inspected, so it was reasonable for the parameters of the inspection to be available in order that retailers could see what the inspection would entail before signing on!

Although not specifically stated in the article, presumably the whole purpose of developing a Quality Audit is to guide the public towards outlets that PIF deem are operating 'responsibly'. This is certainly the intention with PIF's other Quality Assurance standard which covers Grooming establishments; PIF's website explains that the Professional Groomers' audit allows businesses to "prove their competence to the pet-owning public." The details of this scheme are provided in a convenient downloadable format with names and addresses of all groomers listed enabling the public to easily locate their nearest establishment.

After proudly promoting the Audit for puppy selling retailers, it seems extremely odd that details of PIF's scheme and participating members are not similarly displayed on the PIF website - in fact they're nowhere to be found, let alone download.

Surely if there are any participant businesses that have joined PIF for the express purpose of gaining recognition for their "concern for their puppies' wellbeing" they must presumably be disappointed, even completely dismayed that this has not benefited them one bit.

On the flipside any consumer determined to completely ignore professional animal welfare advice - and common sense - and go seeking out a pet shop selling puppies will presumably also be stumped by the total, and hugely embarrassing, lack of professional guidance offered by Mr Baker and PIF.

Repeated requests sent to Mr Baker and PIF on 30th June, 2nd and 17th July, as well as numerous blogposts published over the last few months asking for scheme criteria and a list of participants, appear to have fallen on deaf ears as still no response has been forthcoming. They also block anyone asking the same question on Twitter and Facebook - very odd behaviour from an organisation inviting constructive discussion don't you think?

So why is the PIF being so coy about their Quality Audit? Perhaps there's been a painfully low take-up of their initiative? When pressed into defending PIF, David Cavill (Our Dogs newspaper and ex-PIF board member who publicly declares it's effectively a pet shop's right to sell puppies), claimed that eight retailers had passed the Audit yet despite extensive scouring of the internet we've only located one possible candidate. It's apparently not just PIF that's withholding this information, yet to do so makes no sense at all - or does it?

Dog grooming on the whole is a popular profession both well regarded, and on the whole, uncontroversial. PIF seem happy to heavily promote the assurance scheme for groomers and presumably it is 100% beneficial for the industry to have a measurable standard by which to identify good practice and overall competence.

If PIF genuinely believed there was nothing wrong with selling puppies through pet shops then surely it's likely that this information would be just as freely available? The very fact that any details of Audit criteria and its membership can't be located anywhere suggests there must be a dire need for it to be shrouded in secrecy.

Furthermore it seems PIF are not alone in seeming to protect the third party puppy trade and those irresponsible breeders supplying it. The Freedom of Information Act is an incredibly powerful tool, but some local councils still appear to do everything they can to provide the minimal amount of information on pet shops and breeders while staying safely within the boundaries of the law.

In fact we have found that most large organisations, industry bodies, and businesses connected (directly or indirectly) with the commercial puppy trade continue to be evasive and cagey about divulging any information. When shopping for inanimate objects in the UK, place of origin must be stated clearly on the majority of products, from food to furniture; yet puppy sellers are allowed to withhold not just the place of origin but the very fact that they have purchased the puppies they are selling.

An industry with nothing to hide is proud of the way it operates and always extols transparency. The commercial third party puppy trade operates in the shadows and thrives only because an established culture of protectionism, secrecy and deception allows it to.

So perhaps the Pet Industry Federation's reluctance to place information about its Quality Audit in the public domain is not that surprising after all. PIF is fully aware that third party trading in puppies is indefensible, will never stand up to scrutiny, and is frowned upon my every major animal welfare organisation worldwide; no matter what measures are put in place, there's just no way of improving the sale of puppies in pet shops to a point where it's in any way acceptable.

If of course we've completely misjudged Mr Baker and his PIF, who are maybe (albeit a bit late in the day) just about to finally release and share details of their Audit and its members into the public domain just like their groomers, then we look forward to seeing them. Until then Mr Baker what are you hiding, and more importantly, why?

Marc Abraham BVM&S MRCVS, Founder PupAid

Julia Carr BSc (Hons), Founder Canine Action UK