26/05/2016 12:10 BST | Updated 26/05/2017 06:12 BST

To Solve the Puppy Trade, We Need to Be Pragmatic

As a select committee of MPs considers what should be done about the pet trade, Blue Cross is urging a pragmatic solution that will really work...

Right now, as you read this, puppies are suffering in horrible conditions.

Tonight, as your pet settles down in their comfy bed for a good night's sleep, safe and warm, hundreds of puppies and their parents right here in the UK, are living victims of a nightmare trade.

This is the reality of what is happening today. In Britain. In 2016.

And - for the most part - it's totally legal.

Anyone who watched last week's Panorama programme, Puppy Dealers Exposed, couldn't fail to be moved by what they saw. Undercover footage revealed the truth behind the trade; battery farmed pets, kept in darkness, protected from the stone-cold floor only by a thin layer of sawdust - if they were lucky.

Stop the demand, stop the supply

At Blue Cross, we believe that educating people who want to add a dog to their family is fundamental to stopping this trade in its tracks.

Many say this truth is all too obvious, that if you do a simple online search you will see the warnings. To all in the pet welfare world who see the consequences every day it really is, but the majority of the general public just don't know this goes on.

If you knew the mother of your puppy had been forced to bear several litters over several years, had likely never seen a vet, and the documents claiming she was healthy were probably falsified, would you put your money into this supply chain? No reasonable person would.

Unscrupulous sellers are smart. They've seen the admirable attempts to convince buyers only to purchase a pup when the mum is present, and they've found ways around this.

They've become wise to it. We know that some third party sellers deliberately decorate decoy houses to make them appear as if the litter has been born and brought up in a family environment, when in reality the pups were shipped in last night from eastern Europe, or were actually bred in a shed several miles away.

A ban on this type of selling would likely force third party selling underground and would fail to tackle the problems, leaving just a thin slither of light shining on the canine victims of this vicious and inhumane trade.

We need to look beyond the ideals and become much more pragmatic about what can be achieved.

What we need is a robust and efficient system where all sellers must register on a central database that can be easily checked by those wanting a family pet, and inspected by a trained workforce which is empowered to revoke or deny a licence on animal welfare grounds.

Tangled web

We're often asked if we'd like to see online pet sales banned and we know our answer is not one that some like to hear, but it is realistic. People will continue to turn to the internet to buy pets. A ban is something we'd love to see, but it's an ideal that can't be policed and it's unworkable in the 21st century.

Together with other pet welfare organisations, Defra, and veterinary bodies, we've been moderating classified websites on a voluntary basis, with six of the biggest sites agreeing to take part in the pilot.

We've learnt from this and want to see mandatory codes of conduct applied to all sites advertising pets for sale, with each site required to educate owners before they buy to prevent impulse purchases and weed out bad breeders.

The last time government brought in a law to regulate the sale of pets specifically, Winston Churchill was about to replace Clement Attlee for his second shot as prime minister, Newcastle United won the FA Cup and The Archers had just passed its pilot probation period.

Not only is the Pet Animals Act 1951 pre-internet, it's pre-Queen Elizabeth II's reign. It is thoroughly out of date for modern times.

We need legislation that works for now. The UK's biggest pet shop is the internet, and this is where we think a robust law should focus.

Opening channels

We're really interested to see what we can learn from France, which has recently brought in a transparent registration system where anyone who wants to sell one or more dogs or cats must register.

This is in direct response to the previously uncontrolled trade in private breeding and sale of pets through online classified ads.

Now, in France, sellers must declare the sale to the taxman before they list the pet. The seller then receives a unique and trackable identification number which must be placed on the advert, giving buyers visibility and making breeders traceable. It also applies to pets listed as free to a good home.

And with stricter welfare regulations that look to be easily enforceable alongside this - not to mention the appeal to government of additional sales tax entering the country's coffers - we truly believe it could work.