01/12/2016 06:10 GMT | Updated 02/12/2017 05:12 GMT

Do You Know Where Your Pet Came From?

As our new report reveals many of the UK's pets are spending their first days and weeks of life in horrific conditions, influential politicians join members of the animal welfare world, local authorities and other influential politicians for a Blue Cross conference that asks what can be done about it...

"Dead animals not removed causing maggots in water", "Baby snakes in small boxes with no UV provision", "I am concerned about the older puppies who have a limited exercise area and no natural daylight".

The comments above are each taken - verbatim - from inspection reports of licensed pet shops and dog breeding establishments.

"I never saw any water bowls" and "The pups and bitch were kept in raised rabbit hutch type wooded cages" - just a couple more of the hundreds of comments we saw after obtaining the reports through freedom of information requests.

Our undercover investigation into pet shops also found exotic species such as marmosets for sale in tiny cages, and wild animals such as fruit bats and parrots kept in close proximity to each other in inappropriate conditions with some displaying worrying behaviour.

Pet shops and breeding establishments are premises where pets - living, sentient beings who become our closest confidants - spend their first few weeks of existence. Whatever their species, this stage of life is a crucial one in an animal's development, and these shocking findings reveal a huge failure to ensure pets used for breeding and sale are kept physically and mentally healthy.

Picking up the pieces

At Blue Cross, we deal with the fall out of pets being bred and sold irresponsibly every day. and we're becoming ever more concerned about the welfare of pets being bred and sold in Britain.

Our new report, Unpicking the Knots: the case for a more cohesive approach to pet welfare legislation, is the result of in-depth research into the root cause and scale of the problem, and it brings to light serious welfare concerns in licensed pet shops and breeding premises.

Unable to cope

Local authorities are responsible for running a licensing system for pet shops and dog breeding establishments.

But, a lack of personnel and appropriate training, together with slashed budgets within government agencies, has left many of them without the resources and confidence to deal with animal welfare legislation in a way that works. There are issues regarding consistency and clarity of duties, too, which make the job even more demanding and difficult.

Postcode lottery

We asked licensing officers if they felt equipped to inspect shops selling exotic animals, and 35 per cent said no. Thirty-six per cent of local authority licensing officers surveyed said they had received no training on animal welfare at all, and 26 per cent of those that had said it amounted to a one-day course.

When our panel of veterinary experts reviewed welfare-related comments on inspection reports, 82 per cent of breeding premises and 87 per cent of pet shops were found to be seriously concerning.

Pets being bred or kept in areas without trained staff are suffering from a postcode lottery - and consumers in these locations are at risk of buying a sick or poorly-socialised pet too.

Scratching the surface

While our analysis raises overwhelming concerns about some licensed premises, we're particularly worried about the scale of unlicensed activity, which is totally hidden from view. Without a visible high street presence, online sellers remain out of sight and out of reach of the authorities.

The law that still governs the sale of pets today came into effect the same year Winston Churchill became prime minister for a second time; few would argue we live in a very different world today, and the legislation makes no mention of internet sales.

Without a law that tackles the country's biggest pet shop - the internet - we are set to fail, and we will fail vulnerable animals.

As the number of pets for sale online grows, the situation is becoming ever more urgent. We need action now.

Today, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, joins Blue Cross, members of the Efra select committee, pet industry heads, local authority representatives and our fellow animal welfare charities at our What Lies Ahead conference, as we take the first steps towards finding a workable solution.

Government must introduce legislation that makes a real difference to pets bred and sold in the UK by empowering local authorities with sufficient resources and training they need to do the job. Anyone breeding or selling a pet must be held fully accountable for the welfare of pets in their care.

Only then can Britain can truly start to live up to its reputation as a nation of animal lovers once more.