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‘Mixed messages’ on transport regulations

‘‘...This seems to indicate that if a police officer or council official, acting in ‘Jobsworth’ mode decided to stop somebody transporting their dog or horse to a show, they might be cited for breaking the regulations and end up in court…’

DOG BREEDERS, enthusiasts who exhibit pets at shows and even competing horse riders could fall foul of the new EU rules governing the transportation of animals, it is feared.

Regulations drawn up to ensure the welfare of livestock also cover all other animals being moved in connection with ‘economic activity’.

The Kennel Club believes the rules could snare people who breed and show dogs for a hobby, thanks to new ambiguity coming out of DEFRA. It has demanded urgent clarification from the department before any of its members or other dog enthusiasts are unwittingly trapped. The British Horse Society has also stated that it wants clearer guidelines.

As reported previously the new rules came into force earlier this month and requires anyone taking an animal more than 40 miles (65km) in the UK in connection with economic activity applies for authorisation from DEFRA. Those failing to abide by the regulations could face prosecution.

The Kennel Club had initially received assurances from DEFRA that the dog showing fraternity would not be affected by the regulations, but late last year concern was raised when DEFRA Animal Minister Ben Bradshaw responded to a Parliamentary Question raised, by saying that ‘professional’ breeders would be affected. As a result of this statement the KC sought a meeting with DEFRA to define what ‘professional’ exactly means, and to express disappointment at the poor advice previously received.

At the end of November, DEFRA confirmed that ‘professional’ was specifically referring to ‘commercial’ breeders who are defined by their income exceeding their expenditure. If their income does exceed the expenses of breeding, and/or showing, and they do transport dogs over the ratio of 1:1 person to dog, they would need to complete an application.

In the same Parliamentary Question response Ben Bradshaw had assured the Kennel Club that the winning of prizes at shows and trials should not be regarded as making the transport of dogs to them ‘commercial’. However the regulation will apply to so called ‘commercial’ breeders transporting dogs to shows and trials.

Further, those who breed dogs as a ‘hobby’ will be excluded from the scope of the regulations providing that their income source does not exceed the expenses of the hobby and as long as there isn’t ‘significant’ commercial gain, in other words they are not running a business of breeding dogs.

Tony Baldry, Conservative MP for Banbury and a member of the Kennel Club, has tabled questions in Parliament demanding answers from Ministers. Mr Baldry, whose pug Torres was the 2005 winner of the Westminster Dog of the Year, said: ‘There is clearly a duty to ensure that dogs are transported humanely. However, the problem is not responsible dog breeders, and it would be crazy if this EU regulation inadvertently penalised owners simply taking their dog to Crufts to be shown.’

The Kennel Club was involved in the consultation process over the introduction of the rules, which it hopes will help to clamp down on ‘puppy farmers’, people who make large profits by breeding several litters in a year, thereby endangering the health of the bitch.

The KC believed it had secured promises from DEFRA with its November statement that responsible breeders and people taking their animals to shows would not be affected by the rules, a position repeated by a DEFRA spokesman earlier this week.

However, the spokesman also said that it would be for the courts to decide what counted as ‘commercial activity’. This seems to indicate that if a police officer or council official decided to stop somebody transporting their dog to a show, they might be cited for breaking the regulations and end up in court, where a magistrate would have to rule whether they were engaged in ‘commercial’ activity. The prospect then looms of further legal challenges and appeals from either side engaged in the case.

The Kennel Club is also alarmed by recent comments by DEFRA Minister Ben Bradshaw, who appeared to backtrack when he said that the rules would only cover ‘professional’ breeders.

A KC spokesman said: ‘We are seeking assurances from the department that the term 'professional breeder' does not apply to responsible dog breeders but to those intensive volume breeders who transport puppies with little or no regard for their welfare.’

Although DEFRA has provided an exemption for ‘pets’, the Kennel Club fears it could consider people who show and breed dogs for a hobby as ‘professional’, simply because money changes hands when they sell puppies so they can cover the costs of veterinary bills, DNA tests and screening tests. Again, if a council official deemed that a hobby breeder was breeding ‘commercially’, or if an ill wisher informed the local authority that a hobby breeder was engaged in commercial breeding, charges could be brought.

Initially when the EU Transport of Animals Directive was cited as being detrimental to hobbyists, DEFRA had dismissed the whole matter and had simply stated that the UK Government had no power to overturn an EU ruling. With the mixed messages coming from DEFRA, the prospect of a hobbyist finding themselves in court charged with transporting their animals illegally looks a lot more likely than DEFRA would like fanciers to believe.