An optimist is defined as someone who always thinks that good things will happen. I've always been one, but each day my innate optimism is roughed up, as I wade through a deluge of stories of puppy smuggling, illegal puppy selling, licensed and unlicensed puppy farms and kennels keeping dogs in appalling conditions all in the name of greed-driven cruelty. As an advocate for dogs caught up in the world of abusive commercial puppy breeding, optimism is a state I fight hard to maintain; one which protects my sanity in a world that can seem quite crazed. But, despite my best attempts, some days my perky Pollyannaism doesn't survive the duffing up it gets and I abandon hope that things are going to change for UK breeding dogs any time soon.
But abandoning the dogs isn't something I can do, so the gloom is temporary and I drag myself up out of the mire, push away the despondency and get back to trying to make the world better for them (shame dogs can't do it for themselves as I'm certain they'd be doing a much better job than humans currently are). As it is, campaigners like me, and I'm certainly no expert, offer the only hope they have of getting to live as dogs have evolved to do - which is emphatically not to be kept as man's best breeding machinery. So for the sake of the dogs, campaigners must stick it out through what often seem like pitch-black dark days of hopelessness. My hopes have struggled to stay afloat, let alone rise, over the past year as UK politicians seem determinedly unwilling to make any difference in the foreseeable future to breeding dogs' lives.
Well, that's not quite true. The Conservative government, elected in May, has done something for breeding dogs. They recently overturned a local planning decision blocking a beagle puppy farm, so instead of preventing cruelty, they've enabled it as up to 3000 dogs a year will now be bred and kept before being sold for animal experiments. It's indicative of the current government's mind-set. A party which had nothing in its election manifesto on dog breeding or welfare issues. Not even a woolly promise of a review of existing regulations which was Labour's contribution. I hate to be a voice of doom, and don't do gloomy all that well, I do realism better, and I'll be gobsmacked if new legislation that makes any positive difference to the breeding and selling of dogs occurs in this parliament. I want to be proven wrong and will be the first to rejoice if I am, as will all the good people who are lobbying with the tenacity of terriers to try to make our politicians act better for the dogs.
But, putting the UK aside, in other countries with similar problems - for the international puppy business is vast and universally horrible - there are reasons to be cheerful. Not that it helps UK dogs right now, but if one country makes real changes which brings an end to puppy farming and the like, I'm hopeful that others will be forced, by growing consumer awareness to follow suit. So, being an optimist, I see that UK breeding dogs might be freed from the wretched confinement they currently endure in spite of the UK's less than bright and cheerful political scene for them.
Some of the most positive news is coming out of Australia as years of work by the campaigning group Oscar's Law and others seems to be paying off. The end of puppy farming can realistically be glimpsed as states across the country are addressing the issues. In Queensland, the government is looking into puppy factories; a Parliamentary Inquiry into puppy factories in New South Wales is soon to announce its findings and new legislation is currently being drafted and expected to be introduced by the end of the year by Victoria's Labor government that will ban the sale in pet shops of puppies and ban all puppy factories. All this is major progress and down to concerted efforts by campaigners who are finally managing to influence their legislators. The UK government should take note. Campaigners on this topic do not give up.
In the US, the scale of puppy breeding operations and the subsequent suffering of dogs is huge, but again, legislative progress is happening. Across the country, over 70 cities and counties have passed ordinances that ban the sale in pet shops of commercially produced puppies, which it's hoped will lead to closing puppy mills as they'll no longer have access to convenient sales outlets. Another significant influence that's changing the puppy buying landscape in the US is The Humane Society of the United States successful project which is helping pet stores to convert from selling commercially bred puppies to offering dogs from shelters. These initiatives are hugely successful, both for the dogs who are adopted, and the businesses that make the switch. Although some pilot work along similar lines is happening in the UK, it's not enough yet to have much impact on how people source their canine friends. I'd like to see an enthusiastic embracing of the HSUS-style store adoption model - and here my optimism shines bright - as there's a great chance that puppy farming might die a timely death as the puppy peddlers and dealers would find themselves with some serious, ethical competition in the dog and puppy market.
So while I feel miserable some days at the lack of UK progress, I take heart from changes elsewhere and hope, no, I know, it will happen here. We're just not the world leaders we could and should be.