23/03/2015 08:22 GMT | Updated 20/05/2015 06:59 BST

Open Letter to Pets At Home, 20th March 2015

Dear Pets At Home,

To be fair, over the last six months there have been conflicting statements from your company which have caused a great deal of confusion regarding your position on how puppies and kittens could or should be sold.

Six months ago, you aligned yourselves with the statement issued by the Pet Industry Federation (PIF) of which Pets At Home is a member.

As you will recall, the PIF position was very clear. They emailed MPs days before the Westminster debate calling on them to abstain or vote 'no' on the banning of pet shops selling puppies.

Any misrepresentation claimed by yourselves of your position is actually due to originally aligning your company with the PIF position.

Your most recent statement on social media moved away from this dramatically but continued to leave uncertainty by both animal welfare stakeholders and your customers alike because you still failed to use the key word - 'ban' - in your statement.

But as of March 9th 2015 all that has changed.

"To us, it was clear banning the sale of puppies via pet shops alone is unlikely to have any significant impact on puppy farming or unlicensed breeding or imports. That's why we support a ban, not on any individual type of premises, but on the sale of young puppies and kittens anywhere unless their mothers are present." -Pets At Home spokesperson, Veterinary Times, March 9th 2015 (Volume 45, No. 10)

Let's examine the key part of this statement. "...we support a ban, not on any individual type of premises, but on the sale of young puppies and kittens anywhere unless their mothers are present."

Now, there's no further need for speculation or confusion. You have made your position clear and to be honest, you've gone further than we could have imagined. Thank you.

You support a ban on the sale of puppies anywhere unless their mothers are present and of course this includes pet shops, garden centres, online, and through puppy dealers. Brilliant. Now we are finally getting somewhere.

This is what customers expect to hear from the largest pet shop chain in the UK that also owns Vets4Pets and Companion Care, the largest veterinary group in the UK.

So where can we go from here? Well, as it appears we're all now on the same page with only the best interests of dogs and puppies at heart, we look forward to working with you to bring about urgently needed changes.

And there's more. We have important information, reports, documents and statistics that we'd be more than willing to share and discuss with you. We believe you'll be absolutely horrified when you understand just how significant this problem really is.

Furthermore, the timing of your statement in Veterinary Times couldn't have been more appropriate because only three days after the article appeared, PIF issued a statement too - one that seems to represent the complete antithesis of your own position.

PIF announced their Quality Assurance Standard for the Sale of Puppies in Pet Shops in the Pet Trade Xtra magazine on March 12th 2015. You've probably seen it, but just in case you haven't, the articles states:

"Constructed on the basis of PIF's Pet Ethics Group puppy sales policy and in consultation with a respected veterinarian, the audit tackles the complex issues involved in protecting the welfare of the puppies."

For transparency, it would be great to know who the 'respected veterinarian' is, whether they are independent or if they have a vested interest with PIF or any of its members.

That aside, the 'strict' audit includes:

"...the systematic checking and cross-checking of paperwork, premises and puppies in order to ensure puppies are:"

- at least eight weeks old or over

- only sourced from licensed UK-only breeders

- microchipped, vaccinated, flea-ed and wormed.

Other welfare requirements include:

- guarding against impulse buying by including an enforced three-day wait between viewing a puppy and its purchase

- interviewing the new owner regarding their knowledge, resources and responsibilities

- adherence a puppy sale contract

- the retailer will have to have achieved the Level 3 City & Guilds Pet Store Management qualification.

"This audit is now a pre-requisite of membership for retailers selling puppies, and enables us to have confidence that they are maintaining the highest standards in their businesses," explained Nigel. (That's Nigel Baker - PIF's CEO).

How very disappointing then to see that there are currently some members of PIF still displaying their membership logo despite being in clear breach of these 'standards'.

There are of course a number of other vital factors missing here. Regardless of whether or not this audit procedure could actually be policed, it's likely these puppies will not be sold in the presence of their mothers.

So clearly this is completely unsatisfactory for animal welfare stakeholders and now also for the Pets At Home group of companies.

Another crucial point - puppies will only be "sourced from licensed UK-only breeders". As if this was a panacea to the problem.

Unfortunately our welfare files show that the majority of complaints by members of the public who have purchased puppies that have become sick or died can be traced back to licensed UK breeders and pet shops.

The reason for this is that licensing criteria by cash-strapped local authorities is sub-standard, poorly enforced and licensing inspections are generally carried out by people who are not experts in animal welfare.

Where vets do accompany an inspection, they don't examine each breeding dog for health issues.

And for proof of that, all you need do is look at the atrocious health problems ex-breeding dogs from puppy farms are presenting to rescues with.

To justify selling puppies in a pet shop through a quality assurance scheme is also extremely naïve.

Only a handful of pet shops that are licensed to sell puppies are actually PIF members. If PIF was as committed to animal welfare as it claims, it would understand that any impact this audit will have on the suffering of commercial breeding dogs will be zero.

And if they had done their homework, they would also know that the only sort of breeder prepared to have their puppies sold in a pet shop is a low welfare breeder - licensed or not.

So, Pets At Home, you've made the right decision for the dogs, the puppies and of course your customers. You now have the opportunity to set the benchmark for all other pet industry companies to follow. And you have the influence to do just that.

Our stakeholder group looks forward to meeting with you to formulate an effective joint working strategy that will ensure the incoming government is fully briefed on the urgent need for legislative change to protect the dogs and puppies suffering at the hands of a system that is currently failing them in every respect.

Yours faithfully,

Marc Abraham, Founder PupAid & Linda Goodman, Founder C.A.R.I.A.D.