When I hear of anyone thinking about getting a puppy these days I go full pelt into Operation Avoid Puppy Dealers mode. I've added this to my well-rehearsed 'Avoid Puppy Farmers' spiel as it's the dealers people need to be more aware of than ever before. They're the ones providing the 'shop front' for thousands of puppies being sold every year who start life in puppy farms and whose parents will probably die there. Yet, the dealers make sure the buyers know nothing of that uncomfortable truth, offering an image instead of pups born in the home, with nothing but love and care in their lives. How far from the truth that is.
Dealers get away with fooling the public into thinking they're buying responsibly bred puppies through a barrage of tactics they've perfected in what's a poorly regulated market place. They're often licensed and legal and may in fact proudly say this; the licensing bit that is, they tend to leave out mention of legal as that might set a few alarm bells ringing in potential buyers' minds. Their advertising and selling methods are well-crafted and effective, made easier by the eagerness of puppy buyers to have the puppy of choice at the time of their choosing. Dealers often have smart websites offering all kinds of information that looks great to someone unaware of either the need to, or how to, look behind the gloss.
A while back I did a little recce of some. Ones that I know source puppies from puppy farms, but which they say come from responsible breeders; or they might pretend to breed themselves. The websites are attractive, after all it's not hard to make a website look good when puppies are universally cute. Multiple breeds on offer are a sure sign a dealer lies behind the site, especially if they include many of the so-called 'designer' cross-breeds given daft names. A roll call of puppy farmers delights fill the puppy sites: doodles of all sorts, cavachons, pugaliers, jugaliers, jugs, chugs, pomapoos, the names are as numerous as they are ridiculous. And behind them all, suffering parents endure years of breeding misery, not that puppy buyers will ever see or know that.
Some of the sites use language clearly designed to give an impression of professionalism and quality. Words like 'approved', 'licensed' ''guarantees' 'experienced' 'quality' litter the dealers online shopfronts. And the buyers fall for the fine words and sly trickery.
But something strikes me in all this: some of the dealers advertise puppies that they've not bred, but "sourced" - and we know what that means - as coming with a few weeks of free insurance. This clearly lends a sense of credibility to the dealer if they're able to offer insurance for the puppies they're selling. Puppies with dubious origins. Any doubts about the source of the puppies can be swiftly dispelled by pointing out the insurance they come with. For buyers, of course it helps them, as they're safe in the knowledge that if something goes wrong, the insurance is in place. But, the dealers are also safe, as they not only have the added credibility of being part of an insurance scheme, but they also know that the buyers won't have the need to come back for a refund should something be wrong with the puppies they sell, as the insurance will pay out.
As the UK's leading specialist pet insurer, I asked Petplan about their Breeder Scheme and if dealers can use it and what checks are made on those joining it. They gave me this statement:
"All breeders registered on the Petplan Breeder Scheme agree to abide by the Petplan Breeder Charter, which states that they have bred the puppy or kitten themselves. They must reaffirm their agreement with the Petplan Charter each and every time they activate insurance. We have a detailed registration form and all breeders must agree that we can monitor their claims and we can withdraw their right to issue cover at any time".
Petplan are only one of several insurance providers that those selling puppies use and it seems that relying on the honesty of those selling the puppies and signing up for the insurance schemes is the industry norm. As honesty and integrity are often in scarce supply when it comes to today's puppy market, I have to question how effective breeder insurance schemes are in screening out puppy dealers.
Puppies bred in puppy farms are often poorly, sometimes fatally so, which embroils new owners in high veterinary bills. This raises the spectre of the pet insurance industry on the one hand helping the consumer, whilst on the other, propping up a breeding industry where money is the sole motivator and cruelty is endemic. I've been told of cases where pay outs involving large sums have been made to people who have bought from dealers using these breeder schemes.
Of course, for those of us paying our insurance premiums, this must have a knock on effect on the cost of everyone's policies. This makes me mad, sad and angry in equal measure, to know that as a committed anti-puppy farming campaigner, the money I pay for insurance premiums for my dogs that suffered for years in the puppy farming industry, may in any way, help out those involved in the ugly trade.