David Cavill writes:
I appreciate Pat James' concerns and I understand that there are many who will agree with her views. I am not unsympathetic either, but we live in the real world and we are constrained by the law - law that enshrines the freedom of the individual to act within the law. Let me see if I can put some of Pat's views into that perspective.
Firstly, it is not illegal to buy and sell puppies or adult dogs. The Pet Care Trust has monitored the sales of puppies (and kittens) over the last twelve years and those surveys show quite clearly that very few pet shops sell puppies. Those that are members have to abide by the Trust's code of practice. There is code of practice for all types of livestock sold in pet shops and in the main, their demands are more stringent that those required by the licensing authorities.
I have personally visited pet shops after complaints about members and two shops have been required to resign their membership because they were not prepared to implement the Trust's code of practice for the care of puppies. Personally, I would like to see the licensing authority insist that any shop that deals in livestock was required to be a member of the Trust - but, again, this would require a change in the law. Perhaps the new Animal Welfare Bill now under discussion might make provision for this (Note to Pat - write to Elliot Morley quickly).
About half the dedicated pet shops in the UK belong to the Pet Care Trust and less than three percent sell puppies. Pat may feel that this is wrong and that all sales of puppies and dogs should be banned but it is not illegal - all we can do is to try to ensure that those puppies that are traded (and those bitches used for breeding) are looked after to the highest standards.
The Trust accepts that it is preferable for puppies to be sold by the breeder so four years ago it devised the Puppy Index scheme that encourages Pet Care Trust members to put customers looking for a puppy in direct contact with breeders. This is a free service and, I believe, shows that the Trust is a responsible organisation and sensitive to the feelings of people like Pat. About 1,500 breeders are registered and any complaints against them are investigated too.
It is perfectly true that there are many unlicensed 'professional' breeders and that there is a substantial 'trade' in puppies to trading kennels and other outlets. This is an entirely different issue that has long been recognised by the Trust. To address it, the Trust provided the substantial financial and administrative support required by organisations such as the NCDL, the RSPCA and the Kennel Club among others, to push through the Breeding of Dogs (Welfare) Act thee years ago. Licensing allows enforcement - the first step in ensuring that conditions improve but, believe me for I am in the middle of it, it is a long, hard road. The 1996 report that Pat refers to was part of the RSPCA's contribution to the information presented to Lord Mostyn (then a Minister at the Home Office and whose dog, I am delighted to see, has just become Parliamentary Dog of the Year) that enabled the government to support the Private Members Bill that brought the Breeding of Dogs (Welfare) Act into force. It is not perfect - but few Acts of Parliament are.
It is also true that some of the environmental service officers do not have the expertise (and many chief officers would say that they do not have the time or the money either) to carry out their licensing responsibilities properly, but there have been considerable successes since the Act came into force. (That cases have not come to court is not really a guide - the threat of court action is will often substantially improve the situation) The Pet Care Trust is discussing with the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health ways in which they can become involved with the continuing professional development (training) of those responsible for licensing animal establishments. However, it is not true that nothing has been done but I am afraid that the task is substantial and requires both manpower and money.
Neither the Pet Care Trust, the RSPCA, the Kennel Club nor NCDL can be held responsible for the fact that governments and local authorities are not prepared to make the resources available.
I can assure Pat that everyone involved in these organisations is very much aware of what should be done and I can promise her that if there was an 'overnight' solution it would be put in place immediately.