There are few things cuter than a fluffy bundle of fun puppy. Fact. What's more, with sweet puppies appearing on our screens in adverts (think Andrex, McVitie's and more), in glossy magazines under the arms of a plethora of celebs and wannabe celebs, and amongst our families and friends, it seems that puppies are definitely in vogue this season.
But, with any 'product', when demand peaks, supply needs to react too and whilst I'm guessing it's reasonably easy for McVitie's to run their Rich Tea production line for a few more hours if demand soars, and for Andrex to pulp a bit more wood to make their loo roll, it's somewhat harder to increase capacity from the UK's network of predominantly small, independent breeders. After all - there are only so many puppies a dog can give birth to, even regardless of legislation.
So, what happens when the public want puppies, when they want 'designer' breeds and they want them now and they want them cheap? Cue puppy farms and dodgy dealers to fill the void.
Right now the puppy industry is booming - and it's a growing problem. Breeders from the UK, and puppy smugglers from across Europe, are producing puppies solely for profit, with little, if any, consideration for the animals' needs or health. All too often, puppies are taken from their mothers too soon (before eight weeks of age) and transported on long journeys to be sold on by unscrupulous dealers.
These puppies regularly suffer from preventable illness and can have behavioural issues later on in life. Others sadly die. Many people and puppies have fallen victim to the trade already, and many more will unless action is taken now.
That's why the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has just launched a brand new campaign, named P.U.P.S, which aims to help stop the illicit puppy trade.
P.U.P.S. is a public awareness campaign aiming to ensure that members of the public always buy from a responsible breeder rather than accidentally propping up the cruel puppy farm trade. It's an easy way for any puppy purchaser to avoid being an unwitting part of this cruel trade, by reminding them to always ask just a few simple questions before they buy:
• Parent - make sure you always see mum and her pups together
• Underage - it is illegal to sell a puppy under the age of eight weeks
• Papers - check the puppy has vaccination papers and a clean veterinary check
• Sickness - check the puppy is healthy, energetic and has a good appetite
Part of the campaign, designed with the help of leading creative agency J. Walter Thompson, is a unique and thought-provoking short video in the style of a kitsch children's toy commercial about the hidden horrors of the illicit puppy trade. You can view it here.
Having worked at a senior level across some of the UK's leading dog rehoming charities, I know first-hand about the amount of loving dogs in desperate need of forever homes, so if you're thinking of buying a new dog, it's always best to contact your local rescue centre first. But, if that's not your thing or your heart is completely set on a breed that you can't find from rescue then as a dog lover it's just as easy to not be part of the problem as it is to be an unwitting part of it. P.U.P.S. is simple - just four questions to focus on, just four areas to research.
As well as the public facing 'advert', IFAW is working behind the scenes to strengthen existing legislation. We are calling for an end to third party sales of puppies - that's puppies sold via a middle man. It makes it easier for the buyer, better for the pup and better for the mum plus it's in line with existing Government recommendations (hidden in plain sight on the Defra website) which state you should always see the puppy with its mother and always, if possible, see the puppy in its natural environment.
Ending third party sales stops puppy farms having a place (unless they become the point of sale, which I think it's fair to say may reduce profit somewhat!) and it makes importation from across Europe much more difficult (where in some parts of this industry welfare is severely compromised), which limits the need for puppies to be separated too early from their mums, stops long distance travel in bad conditions and stops breeding bitches having to live a life in darkness, a life unloved, being treated like a birth-giving machine and then being disposed of like a piece of litter when they can give birth no more.
What we need is an increase in protection for puppies and their mums, especially improved regulations that specifically address the sale of pets online and offline, something that ensures clear traceability of anyone selling a puppy and an improved licensing, monitoring and enforcement regime. But, what we would ultimately like to see is the introduction of a ban on all third party sales of puppies in stores and online, with the exception of credible rehoming charities and assistance dogs.
If you love cute puppies like we do, then help us stop this cruel trade. Of all of the political and consumer campaigns that I've worked on, this one seems one of the more simple ones to help with and to make change. All you need to do is just pledge these two actions - always remember P.U.P.S. if you are considering buying a puppy, and, whether you are in the market for a puppy or whether you aren't, please share the video across your social media channels and in any way you can. Your five seconds to share could help put these profit driven, low-welfare breeders out of business or maybe it would make them raise their game. For good.
I'm still yet to meet anyone that openly admits that they weren't bothered where their puppy came from, or that they didn't think the breeder they bought from seemed legit. But, reports from leading authorities on this subject all suggest otherwise because this issue is real. No-one is supporting this trade through choice or on purpose, they are being duped.
Because like I said, everyone loves a cute puppy. Don't they?