It’s your chance to have a say about puppy farms

Bray People - - LIFESTYLE - PETE WEDDERBURN

THIS week, I am writ­ing about dog breed­ing again. I can imag­ine some read­ers think­ing “oh no, here we go again, more about puppy farms”.

There’s a good rea­son for me writ­ing on this topic right now: the gov­ern­ment wants the pub­lic to send them feed­back on the lat­est puppy farm leg­is­la­tion, so if any read­ers are in­ter­ested in try­ing to change things, this is your op­por­tu­nity to have your say. In­ter­est­ingly, you might ex­pect dog breed­ing to be con­trolled by the De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture, but in­stead, it’s the De­part­ment of Hous­ing, Plan­ning, Com­mu­nity and Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment, un­der Min­is­ter Si­mon Coveney. The web­site for post­ing feed­back is www.hous­ing.gov.ie/review-dog-breed­ing-es­tab­lish­ments.

Last week­end, at the an­nual con­fer­ence of Vet­eri­nary Ire­land Com­pan­ion An­i­mal So­ci­ety ( VICAS), the body that rep­re­sents pet vets na­tion­ally, there was a sem­i­nar on “Ire­land’s Dog Breed­ing Es­tab­lish­ments and the Dog Trade”, fea­tur­ing three ex­pert speak­ers. Vets in this coun­try feel highly mo­ti­vated to deal with the “puppy farm prob­lem” us­ing facts and fig­ures.

The com­mer­cial breed­ing of pups and the trade in such pups has been a top­i­cal is­sue in Ire­land for the past decade. A com­pre­hen­sive piece of pri­mary leg­is­la­tion (the Dog Breed­ing Es­tab­lish­ments Act) was in­tro­duced in 2010 to start to bring some or­der to the busi­ness of com­mer­cial dog breed­ing. This leg­is­la­tion re­quires any­one who has six or more un­sprayed bitches to reg­is­ter with their Lo­cal Author­ity, and to com­ply with spe­cific stan­dards of ac­com­mo­da­tion, care of the an­i­mals and record keep­ing. The leg­is­la­tion ap­plies to any set-up where a per­son is keep­ing 6 or more fe­male dogs, ir­re­spec­tive of whether or not they are be­ing used for breed­ing them or not. This means that the leg­is­la­tion also ap­plies to res­cue cen­tres, hunt ken­nels or board­ing ken­nels that have more than six fe­male dog on their premises. All of the var­i­ous es­tab­lish­ments are in­spected to en­sure they meet the spec­i­fied stan­dards, but only the com­mer­cial breed­ers are charged a fee. This seems like a fair way of en­sur­ing that no breed­ers man­age to avoid in­spec­tion through a loop­hole of call­ing them­selves a “hunt ken­nel” or what­ever.

There are cur­rently 243 Dog Breed­ing Es­tab­lish­ments reg­is­tered un­der the leg­is­la­tion, but only 70 of these are com­mer­cial breed­ers. Some of these are small out­fits, with less than a dozen breed­ing bitches, while oth­ers have more in­dus­trial frame­work, with over 200 bitches pro­duc­ing very high num­bers of pup­pies.

There are also still some com­mer­cial breed­ers work­ing un­der­ground in the black mar­ket, avoid­ing reg­u­la­tion and prob­a­bly also avoid­ing pay­ing tax. These can be dif­fi­cult to track down, sell­ing pup­pies through ad­verts with mo­bile num­bers and hand­ing over pup­pies to new own­ers in car parks so that their lo­ca­tion can­not be pin­pointed. They also smug­gle pups out of the coun­try to the United King­dom, hid­ing them in vans and car boots, avoid­ing the strict reg­u­la­tions on dog trans­port.

The cur­rent Dog Breed­ing Es­tab­lish­ment leg­is­la­tion was a big step for­wards: it pro­vides en­force­able guide­lines for the set-up and op­er­a­tion of breed­ing fa­cil­i­ties, with pow­ers for pros­e­cu­tions with sig­nif­i­cant penal­ties for those break­ing the law. But since we’re be­ing asked to give feed­back on them, what should we say?

The first as­pect is about en­force­ment: it’s all very well to have good laws, but if they are not en­forced, then what’s the point? Many in an­i­mal wel­fare cir­cles have been dis­ap­pointed that when peo­ple have failed to reg­is­ter as dog breed­ers, rather than be­ing pros­e­cuted, they have just been told to sign up. And when peo­ple have bro­ken the guide­lines, in­stead of be­ing pe­nalised, they are sim­ply asked to ad­just the sit­u­a­tion. There are also con­cerns that there are not enough in­spec­tors on the ground, and that in­spec­tions are pre-ar­ranged, rather than ran­dom. So in this next phase of dog breed­ing reg­u­la­tion, full, strong en­force­ment of the law is es­sen­tial. The sec­ond as­pect is about the guide­lines them­selves. Should there be a ceil­ing to the num­ber of dogs that can be kept on one puppy farm? Some have up to 500 bitches cur­rently. And should there be a spec­i­fied num­ber of staff mem­bers per breed­ing bitches? I think that one per­son to ten dogs is around the right level, but there’s talk that it could be as low as one per­son per thirty dogs, which would make it dif­fi­cult for the pups to be prop­erly so­cialised and cared for.

Why is this so im­por­tant? It isn’t just so that nice fluffy pup­pies have a happy time. The point is that the pups pro­duced will go on to be­come fam­ily pets. Stud­ies show that dogs born in high vol­ume com­mer­cial breed­ing es­tab­lish­ments have an in­creased in­ci­dence of be­havioural prob­lems com­pared with dogs from small scale pri­vate breed­ers. They are more fear­ful and more ag­gres­sive. To min­imise this type of is­sue, our gov­ern­ment has an obli­ga­tion to do every­thing pos­si­ble to en­sure that com­mer­cially bred pup­pies have the best pos­si­ble start in life.

Have your say on the dog breed­ing law: visit www.hous­ing.gov.ie/review-dog-breed­ing-es­tab­lish­ments.

Dog breed­ing needs to be reg­u­lated by gov­ern­ment

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