THE WELSH Assembly welcomed representatives from the Kennel Club, Dogs Trust, Barbara Packham of the Ty-Agored Animal Sanctuary, Ms Elisabeth Davies, an animal welfare lecturer from Carmarthen College, and OUR DOGS columnist Robert Killick, who were in attendance to highlight their concerns regarding the Farming Connect Service initiative recently introduced.
This Scheme, which is providing grants to farmers looking to expand their agricultural business into commercial areas, is not in the best interests of animal welfare, as it effectively promotes commercial breeding practices, putting profit before welfare. The scheme was first outed by Killick in his regular OUR DOGS column and since then, a campaign calling upon the Assembly to reverse its plans has gained steady momentum.
The delegations visit was a success, with many Assembly Members pledging their support for the campaign. Alun Cairns, Assembly Member for South Wales West and Conservative Spokesperson on Economic Development and Transport, was particularly proactive, in conjunction with his parliamentary assistant Mark Major, who assisted those present with lobbying relevant politicians.
Clarissa Baldwin, Dogs Trust Chief Executive commented: "This year, Dogs Trust will have invested £400,000 into attempting to solve the over breeding problems of dogs in South Wales through neutering campaigns (around 6,000 dogs will be neutered this year). In addition, we remove approximately 1000 dogs per year from Wales to England for rehoming, therefore it is ludicrous to be encouraging further dog breeding in an already over saturated market, in an area where approximately 1000 healthy dogs are being put to sleep each year under the Environmental Protection Act."
Phil Buckley, the KCs External Affairs Manager continued, "Responsible dog breeding is a skill that takes years to master and to bracket this alongside livestock husbandry is inappropriate. Furthermore, to breed dogs for profit is wrong, as it should be a hobby with the focus firmly on welfare standards. We also feel that the Assembly should have consulted with the world of dogs prior to implementation, as we could have proved to them that this Scheme is misguided."
Alun Cairns concluded, "The principle of diversification in agriculture is important. However, it must be recognised that some of the areas in which farmers diversify into need considerable expertise. Awarding grants on a purely economic basis is not sufficient in todays age and the welfare of the animals must also be paramount. Awarding grants for commercial dog breeding in this way amounts to nothing more than endorsement of animal cruelty and such purposes are wrong. I will therefore be using every influence to stop grants for this purpose for people who do not have the necessary expertise."
The alliance of campaigners issued a hard-hitting statement to the Welsh Assembly members, saying:
"We are particularly concerned with this policy that provides grants to farmers who wish to convert their premises into commercial dog breeding establishments, thereby effectively promoting commercial breeding practices.
From experience, such establishments breed dogs purely for profit, allowing welfare standards to deteriorate. Concerned parties are at a loss to understand the reasoning behind the decision of the Welsh Assembly. The problem of puppy farming is not new to Wales and it is an issue of which many Assembly Members are no doubt aware. To now offer financial incentives for breeding dogs - which will ensure that the already saturated puppy market is affected even further - is surely not in the best interests of animal welfare.
We would also ask Assembly Members to consider the following:
What consideration was given to the welfare conditions of breeding bitches?
What guidance was taken on adequate socialisation of puppies without which behavioural problems can easily occur later in life?
Why were the Kennel Clubs own health schemes, which are in place to ensure the general improvement of the health of dogs, overlooked during the implementation of this scheme?
As far as we are aware neither the Welsh Assembly or FCS, contacted the canine world to seek advice and guidance prior to implementation and yet FCS have given an assurance that any farmers looking to diversify into puppy breeding will be trained!
Ultimately it will be the already overpopulated sanctuaries and rescue centres that will bear the responsibility of dealing with the overproduction of puppies and these establishments are already inundated with unwanted animals. Statistics from Dogs Trust for the Welsh region for 2002/03 show the following:
DogsTrust alone accepts 792 dogs per year from Wales and neuter approximately 5,500 dogs in the region.
Wales has double the national average of strays per head of population and this figure is rising.
Statistics from the Co-ordination of Animal Rescue charities Association (CARA) show that they have transferred 1800 dogs from Wales to England in the last 12 months with approximately 300 of these going to DogsTrust centres.
Robert Killick told OUR DOGS this week: "I have to say that everyone at the Welsh Assembly was outstandingly kind, from the car parking attendant upwards. Assembly Member Alun Cairns and his PA Mark Major have worked very, very hard to raise this issue with other Assembly members, and we addressed around 25 of the Assemblys 60 members.
"I believe that the message getting through. There was only one Assembly member who was unpleasant a Liberal Democrat in fact. He wanted evidence that puppy farmers would be bad, but he was just being obtuse. We need 31 of the Assembly members to sign a motion to get the issue debated. IN the meantime, Alun Jones will table a question to the Assembly so we remain hopeful that this foolhardy scheme will soon be dropped."
Readers are urged to write Carwyn Jones the Welsh Assembly Agriculture Minister, who is overseeing the Farming Connect Service, to point out that giving grants to potential puppy farmers is a bad idea.
Write to him at: The Welsh Assembly, Cardiff, or e-mail him at: Carwyn.firstname.lastname@example.org