The government's plans to crack down on 'backstreet breeders' have disappointed campaigners who wanted a complete ban on third party puppy sales.
Proposals from Defra include an intention to make it illegal to sell puppies younger than eight weeks old. There will also be a requirement for anyone breeding and selling more than three litters a year to apply for a formal licence. Anyone trading online will need to be licensed to help make reputable sellers easily accessible to prospective buyers. Punishment for anyone breaking these laws will include unlimited fines and/or six months in prison. It is hoped by the government that these changes will stamp out irresponsible breeding.
Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom said: 'Everyone who owns a pet or is looking to introduce one into their life will want to know that the animal has had the very best start to life. Yet for thousands of puppies born each year to irresponsible breeders, from smaller operations to larger puppy farms, their first weeks are spent in cramped and squalid conditions without the care and attention they need. That is why we are cracking down on the worst offenders by strengthening the dog breeding licence and giving councils the power they need to take action.
'With more and more pet sales now taking place on the internet, it's right that this market is subject to the same strict licensing criteria as other breeders and pet shops so that consumers are not misled. The plans announced today will help people choosing new family pets to be confident the animals have been properly bred and cared for from birth.'
Pet shops will be required to give information about the puppies they buy with details of the five welfare needs, environment, diet, behaviour, housing and freedom from pain.'
The Kennel Club has welcomed the government's plans to tighten up laws around selling pets and breeding dogs as 'a step in the right direction'.
Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club Secretary said: 'Kennel Club regulations state that breeders must not sell registered dogs to commercial dealers or pet shops and we continue to call for a ban on third party sales. This new rule will help protect those puppies who are being sold by commercial third parties from going onto their new homes when to do so could compromise their welfare. However, the Kennel Club has some concerns about how local authorities will enforce the new licensing regime, now that breeders who breed three or more litters will require a licence.
'Our main concern, as the litter licensing threshold is set to reduce from five litters to three, is that already overstretched local authorities are given the support they need to enforce the legislation. When a similar measure was taken forward in Wales, the number of licences issued the following year actually reduced, indicating that many breeders were falling through the gaps.'
'We look forward to working with Defra on plans to incorporate our UKAS accredited Assured Breeder Scheme formally into the proposed risk based licensing system. We are of the view that Assured Breeders should be deemed 'low risk' and be able to continue to be inspected by Kennel Club assessors without the need for duplicate inspections from their local authority - or the added cost. This would allow for local authorities to focus their resources on higher risk breeders'.
These measures are seen as a 'step in the right direction' by the British Veterinary Association (BVA), Gudrun Ravetz, President of the BVA, said: 'This is a significant step in the right direction to improve the welfare of puppies and dogs in the UK, an issue our members are extremely concerned about as increasing numbers of poorly bred puppies are brought into veterinary practices.'
The new plans were heartily welcomed by animal welfare charity Dog's Trust. Paula Boyden, Dogs Trust Veterinary Director, said: 'As the UK's largest dog welfare charity, Dogs Trust welcomes the Government's review of animal establishments licensing in England and the range of measures it sets out.
'We are particularly pleased that it will be illegal to sell a puppy below the age of eight weeks and that there will be tighter licensing rules which will require sellers of pets to display their licence when advertising. We also applaud the move towards a risk based single licensing system which will incorporate those breeders that have gained UKAS approval rather than exempting them.
'We believe that Local Authority Inspectors need support to enforce these tighter licensing rules. As such, moves to mandate the use of Model Conditions and for inspectors to be offered training and standards to be set is most welcome.'
However, these proposals are essentially the same as the rules introduced by the Welsh government two years ago and at that time Dogs Trust were less than 'pleased'. A statement issued then said, 'Dogs Trust welcomes the Welsh Government's commitment to replacing the out-dated Breeding of Dogs Act 1973 with new regulations. However, the charity fears that these regulations are not robust enough, nor do they go far enough, to tackle the various issues surrounding dog breeding in Wales.
'Concrete guarantees are needed to ensure these measures will be properly and effectively enforced, which we believe is the key to cracking down on unscrupulous breeders.'
Last November the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs sub-committee issued a report where they called on the government to introduce an outright ban on third party sales. Campaigners at the time saw this as a breakthrough and the chair of the committee Neil Parish MP said, 'I am unhappy that the Government has not followed our suggestion to ban the third party sale of dogs, as I believe this would have had a large impact on the condition of dogs sold in the UK. The Government's own advice for a buyer to see a puppy with its mother is contradicted by the ability of third parties to sell puppies.
'While I welcome a new licensing regime for breeders, the Committee will be disappointed that the Government has decided to apply it to anyone breeding three litters or more. The majority of animal charities we heard from advocated that anyone selling two litters or more per year should be licensed as a breeder. This is a lost opportunity to bring more breeders under the licensing regime.'
Marc Abraham, creator of Pup Aid, who has been campaigning for a ban on third party sales for many years also felt this was an opportunity missed by the government. He told OUR DOGS, 'This is disappointing. It is bad for the dogs. Any dog lover who understands the system will feel duped. All the reports, all the evidence, has been ignored. It is not fair and it is a missed opportunity. These proposals are nowhere near enough to tackle puppy farming.
'How can they say this is going to stop puppy farming? If anything it legitimises it. These regulations were brought in to Wales and they don't work. The Government has let down the animals.
'In 2017 a ban on third party puppy sales is a no-brainer. It is the government's own advice to make sure you see a puppy with its mother and these proposals contradict that advice.
'Third party puppy sales can only be detrimental. These proposals don't take into account the journey that a puppy might have made to a pet shop. The conditions it has lived in before it gets there and the stress of transportation. It is relying on Eastern European animal welfare standards.'
Mr Abraham is upset that the support he thought he had from some animal welfare charities seems to have disappeared. He said, 'Last week I had a meeting with Lord Gardiner (the parliamentary Under Secretary at Defra responsible for these issues) and I asked him directly which charities are wavering and he told me Blue Cross, Battersea and Dogs Trust aren't supporting a ban on third party puppy sales.'
Because of this change of stance a petition (HYPERLINK "http://bit.ly/2kZnyrZ"http://bit.ly/2kZnyrZ) has been launched online directed at those three charities calling on them to support a ban on third party sales. It has over 2,000 signatures as we go to press.
'People are angry and it is time for people to get on the right side of history,' Mr Abraham said. 'Licensing legitimises cruelty and dupes the public. Accountability and transparency can only improve animal welfare. People should write to their MP and/or Lord Gardiner demanding a ban on third party sales. Puppies should be bought directly from the breeder.'
He feels it is vitally important to apply pressure on the government as these are still only proposals and 'nothing is set in stone. There is a long way to go.'