Pet Shops

When we started campaigning in 2007 the puppy trade was bad. Nowadays it’s completely out of control. The market in puppies is massive, growing year on year and it’s highly lucrative. So lucrative in fact that criminal elements run throughout every element of the industry. Where a few years ago pet shops selling puppies were a common presence on high streets, this is no longer the case. Very few bricks and mortar shops now sell puppies thankfully, although it is still legal to do so. Shops have been replaced by the internet which is now where the majority of people look for puppies and regulating the internet is not a straightforward matter.

But, serious steps are needed to bring the puppy business under control including enforceable legislation as a matter of urgency. We know from our years of face-to-face experiences with countless breeders and puppy dealers that legislation is often ignored, or worked around. But, what’s the alternative if we don’t call for, contribute to and support legislative efforts to protect the dogs? A free-for-all where big money is there to be made by those willing to exploit and harm animals.

Recently the Westminster Government conducted a review of the legislation covering dog breeding and sales and as a result, new regulations are due in place in 2018. While the government did not propose banning pet shops and other third parties from selling puppies, what is being planned is a tougher licensing regime which will require all sellers of puppies, including online sellers to have a licence. Statutory conditions will be applied to all sellers. It is hoped that by requiring all sellers to be licensed, and all to be required to state licence numbers, enforcement will be helped. As with everything, enforcement is the biggest factor as to how successful or not legislation is.

This is one concern we have when it comes to banning the sale of puppies away from their mothers – aka ‘third party sales’. During our years of campaigning and investigations, this is something we’ve called for – and wish to see – but we also know that if this was to be introduced in the current out-of-control puppy market, it may well lead to more problems than it solved. The enforceability of such a ban is a major concern. Consider for example the millions of online adverts. How is it possible to identify among them which are the puppies being sold away from their mums? How could it be proven that the family selling pups from the house down the street are not buying in pups and selling them off under the guise of being pups bred from the female dog they have there with them to convince the buyers that mum’s present? To bring a case to court for someone breaking any law against third party sales, DNA evidence would probably be a requisite. It’s hard to see this being enforced. We vehemently wish that there was a simple, straightforward and immediate solution that will protect breeding dogs and their puppies.  The faces of those we have not been able to save over the years haunt us and we would never be reluctant to see anything if we thought it would help them.

Over the years, working undercover, we have been in the presence of breeders offering us litters to sell on, with mum being part of the package until the sales are concluded. When pups are sold, mum’s back in the breeding shed with no-one caring about anything but the money she’s making them. A ban on selling pups via third parties would do little, if anything to improve lives of breeding dogs held by these unscrupulous people. They’re in the business of selling puppies and know all the tricks and loopholes to stay profitable.

We base our understanding of what’s required to get this business under control on years of first-hand dealings with puppy farmers, breeders, dealers, people of all sorts making easy money from the suffering of breeding dogs and their puppies. Lies and deception are the norm in this business. For example, we have had direct dealings with pups being bred and sold under the name of rescue. Yet the parent dogs suffer the same as if their pups were being shipped to shops for sale. Breeding dogs lives are miserable and disposable for the people who deal in puppies. When we see bans on shops in the US being spoken about as ending the huge problems of puppy mills, we know this is not really happening as breeders are just moving to sell to ‘rescues’ to get around the retail bans, or online which remains unregulated. Our US contacts tell us time and again that while retail bans are welcome, much attention is needed to what’s happening in the breeding facilities themselves where the suffering begins and continues, for anything to really change. It’s the exact same in the UK.

As well as our field work which informs everything we do, we follow all the debates, arguments, counter arguments and proposals as to how best to tackle this huge and cruel industry. At the present time, we believe that when the new licensing system is in place with correct enforcement it will hopefully provide a better chance of bringing in a workable, enforceable ban on pet shops and other third parties from selling puppies. It’s a view shared by several welfare groups, MPs, campaigners and other experts who understand the complexities of this massive, criminal infiltrated and lucrative industry.

Finally, pet shops are licensed by local authorities. The power already exists for local authorities to restrict the sale of animals from pet shops. Our belief is that persuading local authorities, through local activism, is always worthwhile if there is a pet shop selling animals in your vicinity.

Murphy’s Tale

We first published Murphy’s story in 2008 and it illustrates how the puppy industry works. We are pleased to see many MP’s use our words  in Parliament. Murphy is a Cocker Spaniel. He was born in Ireland, but he doesn’t live there. Soon after he was weaned, he was taken away from his mother, put in a cage and packed onto a lorry with many other puppies. They were driven to the port of Dublin and put on a ferry to Liverpool. From there, he was taken to a warehouse near Manchester where he stayed for several days. He was eventually transported to a London pet shop where he was in a pen and put up for sale. But he wasn’t feeling very well and his luck changed when a lady spotted him, felt sorry for him, bought him and took him straight to a vet.

He was by then 11 weeks old but still knew nothing of play or cuddles or kindness from humans. The vet suspected pneumonia and admitted Murphy. For the next 2 days, he was on a drip and intravenous antibiotics. He remained on medication at home for another 3 weeks, but made only slow improvement. He went back to the vet and finally after xray, fluid drain and further lab tests, new medication started him on the road to recovery.

Murphy was lucky. He survived. Many don’t. His owner could also afford the huge vet bills.

Please do not buy a pup because you feel sorry for it as you provide the seller with their market and the suffering continues. If you think a puppy needs veterinary help, please report immediately to the RSPCA.

Where pet shop puppies start their lives and leave their parents behind

No responsible dog breeder will sell their puppies to a third party dealer or pet shop. So where do the cute puppies being advertised online, or seen in shops, or family homes being bought in to sell on to the public come from? Thousands of puppies are born and spend the first few weeks of their lives in a dark, squalid prison, surrounded by faeces and urine. Puppy farms, battery farms, factory farms, breeding kennels and sheds, all mean the same thing – suffering for the dogs.

Puppies born in these places are deprived of proper diets, clean water and have no interaction with humans or space to play. After all, as far as the breeder is concerned, puppies are simply  a cash crop, so why waste time and money doing more than is absolutely necessary to keep dogs alive?

Puppies are often removed from their mums well before the time that good practice dictates, so that they can start making money for those in the supply chain as early as possible.  As for mum, she’ll stay in solitary confinement regularly producing new litters until she is too old or too ill to earn any more cash for the breeder. Then she will either be dumped on a rescue shelter, or disposed of by the breeder.

Puppy Dealers

Breeders operating in this way sell their puppies direct to retail vendors – pet shops – or as part of a job lot to a wholesale dealer.  Pups can pass through several other hands before finally being offered to the public.  They will often travel many hundreds of miles from the place they’re born to where they’re finally sold.  If a puppy is lucky, it will have been transported for at least the first part of its journey on the UK mainland in accordance with the Welfare of Animals (Transport) (England) Order 2006, which lays down minimum standards and is mirrored in Wales and Scotland. Of course there are many in this trade who have scant regard for the law.

Whether pups initial journey was in a properly equipped vehicle or in the back of an old van, it will have been in the company of many others , disease spreads rapidly in these transport conditions.  The stress of its situation and weakened immune system due to a lack of proper care from birth, will make a puppy susceptible to a range of infections. Gastro enteritis, various intestinal complaints, kennel cough and pneumonia frequently occur in puppies sold through these channels, although not always obvious at the time of purchase. Parvo virus, an often fatal infection appears far too often in these animals. Sadly, however serious these diseases, and all of them could be fatal, or how costly veterinary treatment might be, they may still be only a foretaste of the heartbreak and expense yet to come.

Take a look at the Your Stories page for just a few examples of the hereditary conditions that can arise as a result of the out of control situation that currently characterises the UK puppy business.

By now you might be thinking it can’t get any worse. Sadly it can.  It is well established that the period between 6 and 12 to 14 weeks is the most important development period in a puppy’s life. What it learns in that time, both good and bad, can have a lasting effect for the rest of its life. And how has it spent most of it? Isolated from interaction with caring humans, lacking any stimulation or exposure to play, frequently competing for food and forced to relieve itself in its cramped living space. Not very surprising then that it’s common for puppies today to exhibit behavioural problems such as possessiveness over food and toys, difficulty with house training and in the worst case, aggression.

How has this all developed?

To understand how this trade developed, we have to go back to the middle of the last century and beyond. There was no internet, no mobile phone network, less than 50% of households had a landline phone and car ownership for all was decades away.

Pet shops were strictly local businesses and most of them sold small animals. Neutering of dogs was not the common practice it is today and many people found themselves with puppies, either by design or accident. If someone had difficulty selling all of the puppies themselves, or didn’t want the bother of selling an unwanted litter, the local pet shop would be happy to take them off their hands. There was concern about the conditions animals were often kept in while they were awaiting sale in pet shops and the government of the day introduced the Pet Animals Act 1951.

This specified that accommodation should be adequate, as should food and drink, that mammals should not be sold at too early an age, reasonable steps should be taken to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and that appropriate steps would be taken in an emergency.

Anyone running a business selling animals to the public required a licence from their local authority and it was the duty of the authority to set specific conditions which it felt were necessary to satisfy the broad requirements of the Act. A set of model conditions was issued by the Local Government Association as a baseline guide for licensors in 1992 and updated in 1998. Individual authorities could of course add other conditions where they felt this is appropriate.

By the 1970s, the breeding of dogs had grown from its small scale local roots and commercial breeders began appearing as businesses supplying puppies for profit. To ensure reasonable welfare standards,the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973 was introduced. This required that anyone keeping more than two breeding bitches for the purpose of breeding should also be licensed by their local authority, which had the power to inspect premises to ensure compliance with the Act. Further legislation relating to commercial dog breeders was introduced in 1991 and 1999 and the Animal Welfare Act 2006 for England and Wales and its equivalent in Scotland, sets out broader requirements for anyone responsible for animals in any capacity. New licensing requirements for dealers in young cats and dogs supplying stock to pet shops or retail traders were introduced in Scotland in 2009.

The law covering the regular sale of puppies to the public by anyone other than their breeder is now 60 years old. Apart from a few very minor amendments over the years, its basic requirements are still as they were in 1951 and take no account of current best welfare practice or the retail methods used in the 21st century. It’s hoped that the changes being introduced in 2018 will go some way to tackling these problems.