THE BLOG

What's the True Cost of That Puppy in the Window?

08/03/2016 12:33 GMT | Updated 08/03/2017 10:12 GMT

Buying a puppy is easy - but when welfare laws are lax, how do you know you're not fuelling a cruel trade?

For years, people who care about animal welfare have called for tougher rules to protect pups from the marketplace, and now, MPs' ears are pricking up.

On Tuesday 8 March, politicians will debate the welfare of young dogs bred for sale and we hope they'll listen.

Unscrupulous and overbreeding is putting pressure on animal welfare charities' services and we need something to be done urgently.

The pet market is already saturated. The number of irresponsible breeders is growing and supply is far outweighing demand. In the last five years, Blue Cross has seen a 44 per cent increase in the number of unwanted and abandoned puppies needing our help.

Currently, the threshold for licensing litters is set to five or more a year. Defra has suggested it would be keen to lower the threshold to three, but we believe restrictions need to go much further.

Unlicensed breeders are a particular problem in Britain. Blue Cross would like to see a registration system for anyone breeding a dog, from large scale commercial operations to much smaller scale backstreet breeders.

We believe this would help to drive up standards and promote a more responsible culture at a time when breeding to produce extra income is becoming an increasing attractive prospect.

Illegal imports

Increasing numbers of poorly bred puppies are being imported to the UK from Europe. Many enter the country crammed into cages into the back of vans without proper access to food or water.

Not only is the health and welfare of these puppies severely compromised on the journey, but these conditions create the perfect environment for the spread of disease.

Underage puppies cannot be properly vaccinated against serious diseases such as rabies and the risk to the currently rabies-free UK is a serious one.

Puppy smuggling

Breeders and dealers are exploiting the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) to bring these puppies to Britain.

Dealers can often make thousands of pounds for each shipment. Between 2011 and 2013, the number of declared puppies entering the UK from Lithuania increased by 780 per cent, and the figure for those arriving from Hungary in the same period rose by 663 per cent.

These percentages relate only to the animals that were declared - in fact, the true number of pups arriving is likely to be much higher if illegally smuggled animals are taken into account.

Early socialisation is really important for making sure a puppy will grow up into a happy and healthy pet, but being bundled into a van for a long journey across the continent means the welfare of these vulnerable youngsters is neglected at a vitally important stage in their development.

Enforcement of existing rules also needs improvement, particularly at the ports. A robust and efficient enforcement system is essential to stop the flow of illegally imported puppies.

Online sales

No matter what we want to buy, the first port of call for most of us these days is the internet. We can buy everything we want at the click of a mouse and pets are no exception.

The Pet Animals Act, which governs the sale of pets, was written long before the advent of the internet and it fails to make direct reference to online sales.

While the government has announced it is looking to amend this legislation, we believe it should be absolutely clear that anyone selling animals online should fall under the same regulatory regime as dog breeders and those selling from pet shops.

Buying power

Vets at Blue Cross hospitals and pet care clinics across the country examine and treat many sick puppies that have been left vulnerable to disease after starting life having been bred by bad breeders in unacceptable conditions, and then sold online.

Princess collapsed the morning after her new owners brought her home. Our vets tried desperately to save her after she was rushed to our hospital for emergency treatment, but, sadly, she was too weak to survive.

And it's not just pups like Princess who suffer; their mums need help too.

Dogs Doris and Edna arrived with multiple health issues between them - matted fur, ear infections, overgrown claws, dental problems, and mammary tumours. Both ex-breeding bitches were terrified of people, having been denied socialisation.

We helped get Doris and Edna back on their paws and found them a loving new home together, where they'll never suffer again.

Until the government acts, you can help stop the trade by refusing to get your new dog from a pet shop, garden centre, puppy farm or commercial breeder.