It should come as no surprise to anyone that the majority of excited, prospective puppy buyers want to be able to confidently buy a puppy that has the best possible chance of being a healthy, happy companion, and family member. In other words there's no real demand out there for irresponsibly bred puppies.
The sale of puppies away from the premises of their birth is a well-recognised issue of considerable concern by animal charities, veterinary professionals, canine behaviourists, and most welfare groups and organisations here in the UK and worldwide.
The 2014 PupAid petition asking the Government to ban the sale of puppies (and kittens) without their mums received more than 111,500 signatures in just 6 months; clear evidence of public support for positive animal welfare change in the UK's outdated legislation governing puppies sold by third party sellers e.g. pet shops.
It's also worth noting that in the UK anyone carrying out a business of selling dogs (puppies) that they have not bred themselves, is required under the Pet Animals Act 1951, to hold a 'pet shop licence'; these third party sellers include not just the classic high street pet shop, but also puppy importers, online sellers, and of course the puppy dealers; technically all 'pet shops'.
Where puppies are sold through third parties in particular - and on a large commercial scale in general - welfare issues also commonly arise both from encouraging impulse purchasing/not refusing sales to unsuitable homes, as well as with unsold puppies. It makes sense then that puppies should always be bred and sold by the individual that breeds them, i.e. responsibly.
The UK's third party puppy seller demand for puppies helps sustain establishments breeding often large numbers of puppies for commercial purposes with minimal costs. Inevitably this results in these low standards of welfare, resulting in higher profit margins, and is the generally accepted definition of a 'puppy farm'.
It's important to remember that high welfare risks associated with intensive, low budget establishments effectively fuel this growing market for puppies that prioritises quantity over quality; a constant supply of cheaply produced pups that exists irrespective of whether or not the establishment is licenced or unlicenced i.e. legal or illegal.
Currently, commercial breeders are exempt from the expectation that pups can be seen interacting with mum (against Government's own advice) as they only have to comply with basic minimum standards to be licenced, which of course includes selling puppies without mum to third party sellers and rarely directly to the public. Licensing not only sets these minimum standards but licences won't be granted unless these criteria are met, but sadly give no incentive for achieving high welfare standards.
On the other hand responsible breeders by definition care greatly about the welfare of their puppies and will never supply any third party puppy sellers - especially high street pet shops. The pet shop trade requires puppies that are cheap, consistently available, and produced in sufficient quantities from breeders with no interest in their puppies' future well-being - irresponsible by definition.
Model licence conditions for third party puppy sellers cannot insist that puppies are purchased from responsible breeders - a source which will not supply them, so inevitably puppies will be bred in establishments that prefer prioritising quantity over quality. Health problems caused by this poor start in life will only be compounded with each stage of the supply chain e.g. from irresponsible breeder i.e. licenced (legal) puppy farm via the licenced (legal) dealer network, to licenced (legal) pet shops.
Licencing ensures the legality of selling puppies through pet shops and confers an endorsement to the puppy buyer that it's being done correctly and is therefore an 'OK' way of selling pups. If it's legal and it happens, then it must be OK right?
However, and hugely confusingly, the Government's own advice to prospective puppy buyers is to always see a puppy with its mother, effectively cautioning buyers against establishments which have been approved through their own licencing system! As a result it's therefore difficult to effectively educate the British public against such a legitimate (legal) trade in puppies which is clearly wrong on so many welfare levels.
The mass production and sale of pet dogs in this way is wholly unique and welfare-wise unsurprisingly incomparable with any other 'livestock' breeding enterprise. Appropriate socialisation and habituation is crucial for companion animals, with dogs needing particular requirements that necessitate a considerable degree of involvement and investment from the breeder. It's worth asking at this point whether high welfare standards could ever be achieved under these 'intensive' large scale situations?
The transportation of puppies from these licenced breeding establishments to licenced pet shops in itself poses an immense health and welfare risk too. High levels of stress results in increased defecation, urination, and therefore infectious disease transmission; meaning this cannot ever be neutralised through improved regulation or stronger enforcement; so it's no surprise that selling puppies from premises other than where they were born, i.e. through third party sellers, again has an inherently negative impact on both their health and welfare.
Furthermore, allowing puppies to acclimatise to their new premises, e.g. high street pet shop, before they are sold, is always necessary but not only exposes them to the risk of disease for longer, but also further delays their critical socialisation, in this golden period of learning their template to deal with life.
Puppies removed from mums before weaning is completed will commonly suffer the consequences of underdeveloped immune systems, then sold to the public already infected with incubating burdens of life-threatening infectious diseases such as Parvovirus, Campylobacter, Giardia, and Kennel Cough.
As if this all wasn't enough for these tiny pups, prevalence of inbreeding and lack of health testing makes them prone to hereditary conditions too, often ending up costing their new owners thousands of pounds in vet treatment and, if they survive, they'll most likely suffer painful, chronic, life-limiting conditions.
Lack of socialisation during this crucial development stage also leads to dogs that are much harder to train, with higher risk of behavioural issues such as fear aggression affecting not just other dogs but humans in our wider society too. Poor health and behavioural issues also result in dogs being relinquished to the rescue system, and possible euthanasia, by owners who are sadly unable or unprepared to cope.
All these unavoidable compromises clearly mean it is impossible to improve third party selling to a point where it becomes acceptable, i.e. the welfare of the puppy and its mum is prioritised. Existing fragmented legislation covering the commercial breeding and sale of dogs places no obligation whatsoever on breeders or vendors to ensure puppies are bred, reared, and/or sold responsibly, so that they meet well-intentioned consumer expectations as well as being fit for purpose as happy, healthy, family pets.
The obvious hidden costs to both owners and society resulting from this disgusting trade should mean puppy farming is regarded as more than 'just' an animal welfare issue. Furthermore the industry almost certainly places a greater burden on the taxpayer than can be offset by its minimal contribution to the economy; it is therefore also a huge financial drain on society.
Also legally or illegally imported puppies can only legally be sold through premises which have been licenced as a third party seller i.e. pet shop; this being significant as banning third party puppy sales would severely limit imported pups as they'd be unable to be sold without their mums once they made it to these shores.
With that in mind it's also important to point out even legally imported puppies, all correctly chipped and vaccinated against rabies, are still made to travel long distances and are still born on cruel puppy farms - so surely by legitimising this route to simply supply demand (as some animal welfare organisations suggest), this can only encourage more puppies to be bred, transported, and sold in this way? The UK's door of cruelty is effectively held wide open, legally, and endorsed by trusted organisations.
So it's clear that banning puppies that are sold without being seen interacting with their mums would help eliminate the only legal outlet for puppies imported from Europe, without contravening EU Trading laws, and guarantee that puppies sold in the UK have been bred to UK welfare standards in this 'proud nation of animal lovers' which we should constantly and proudly be striving to maintain.
To the general public, and indeed some welfare organisations, if a third party business selling puppies e.g. high street pet shop is regarded as licenced, i.e. legal and appropriate, consumers shouldn't need to be diverted away; so how is it acceptable and reasonable to place the onus on consumers to choose responsibly when they try to follow Government (and most animal welfare professionals') guidelines of always seeing the pup with its mum?
To say that third party sellers e.g. pet shops are appropriately licenced and regulated, but to then advise the public to purchase from alternative sources is to 100% fail to protect consumers - and dogs - from situations where there are clearly large welfare concerns. If poor quality sources of puppies are legally sanctioned, then legally sold, they can only continue to flourish, and sadly do.
Responsible breeding is not just about producing animals but also preparing them for their (and their owners') future lives. Businesses that sell puppies as family companions should have a legal duty to ensure as far as possible that the animals they are producing are fit for purpose as exactly that, family companions; and any legislation which sanctions this activity should therefore place a legal obligation on breeders to meet the highest welfare standards possible. This will ensure consumer confidence and improve trust in the industry and Government system which regulates it.
A ban on the sale of puppies through third party sellers e.g. pet shops, would be the simplest, cheapest, most effective, easily enforceable, and 'right' thing for Government to do, making an immediate massive positive difference and swift improvement to the welfare of thousands of dogs. Just like banning driving without a seat-belt and smoking in pubs are the 'right' things to do.
It is much harder to identify 'wrong' or unlawful activities when an activity is legal, than it is to identify a practice which is clearly prohibited. Therefore, the process of enforcement would also be considerably easier, including public scrutiny, in the event of a much-needed ban.
Finally with the US now making more progress than the UK in banning puppies from pet shops, in more and more cities across both America and Canada, it's time for the UK Government to step up and prove that we also care about dogs, puppies, and animal welfare.
After all, dogs save our lives in so many ways; through their unconditional love and companionship and with their exceptional intelligence and sensitivity by sniffing out bombs, detecting cancer, helping us see and hear. The very least we can do is to help save their lives in return.