Dogs have often been called man’s best friend, and they are certainly the nation’s choice of pet.
But unscrupulous breeders and dealers who run so-called puppy farms leave some of our furry friends living in appalling conditions.
But legislation coming into force in April 2020, known as Lucy’s Law, will ban the sale of puppies and kittens by third parties and ensure that anyone buying or adopting one aged under six months must deal directly with a breeder or animal rehoming centre, rather than a pet shop or commercial dealer.
Named after Lucy, a cavalier King Charles spaniel who died in 2016 after being poorly treated on a puppy farm, the ban is scheduled to come into force on April 6 next year.
Bitches are used by unscrupulous puppy farmers to produce litters which are separated from their mothers within weeks and either advertised online or sold to pet shops.
Accountability for sellers
“There is no real place for battery farming of dogs in 2019,” says Lucy’s Law campaigner Marc Abraham. “Puppy farms are places that breed animals, primarily dogs, in horrible conditions.
“Anyone selling a puppy for profit will now be accountable. It is accountability that has always been missing. This is a major first step.
“Now the industry can’t be hidden. Just like smoking in a pub, that’s not hidden. Now if you can’t see the mum of the puppies then that is a very visible thing.”
Jenny Martinez runs Grinshill Animal Rescue near Shrewsbury.
“In Shropshire we have quite a few puppy farms,” she adds. “It is the bitches that get a worse deal than the puppies themselves, they are forced to do it again and again in unhygienic and poor conditions.
“People visit these places, or will meet a seller in a lay-by, which is quite common, and their heart rules their head. But buying these puppies perpetuates the monetary value of these dogs.”
For dog rescue centres like Grinshill, Jenny says the cost of caring for one bitch that arrives there from a puppy farm is between £300 and £400 in care before they are actually able to go to new homes.
She took on one cocker spaniel called Betty, who had been used as a breeding dog on a farm.
“When she came in you couldn’t tell where she ended and the matted fur began,” she adds. “She had tumours and was in a real state. I had to adopt her, she was a sweetheart and I really didn’t want to give her any more stress and she deserved a better life, and I was able to give her three good years.”
In January a puppy farmer in Sleap, north of Shrewsbury, was banned from dealing with dogs for 10 years after leaving several animals to fight among themselves.
Inspectors found more than 70 dogs at the site when they visited the property belonging to 73-year-old Marcia Hollins-Jones.
She pleaded guilty to four animal welfare offences at Telford Magistrates Court after RSPCA inspectors found dogs with severe bite wounds and cold concrete kennels with urine-soaked carpets.
Animal welfare campaigners have welcomed the new law and RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said he was “absolutely thrilled” with the legislation but it required enforcement. To illustrate the scale of the issue, in 2018 the charity received 4,397 complaints about the puppy trade in England alone.
He said: “We hope this ban, alongside the tougher licensing regulations that were introduced in October, will help to stamp out the underground trade that exploits these wonderful animals simply to make a quick buck.”
Social media sales
But Jenny is not sure how the law itself would be enforced, and blames sales of animals on social media for some of the problems. “It’s a big problem,” she says. “Social media has been a real black side to buying a pet online.
“If you see an advert that you don’t like the look of then please contact Defra.
“We shouldn’t turn a blind eye and we should report it if worried.”
Julie Freeth is the manager of Caars Rescue near Wolverhampton, a refuge for homeless, distressed, abandoned, or unwanted pets.
She feels that while Lucy’s Law is a step forward, it could potentially cause other issues too. It’s a two-pronged fork really,” she says. “We do need to eliminate puppy farming, but it could create a different problem.
“If a breeder does not want to bring dogs to a rescue centre, because they are worried about further checks on them if we take their names and addresses, then what is going to happen to these other dogs?”
Paula Boyden, veterinary director at Dogs Trust also urged the Government to go further.
She said: “We would like to see additional measures introduced to ensure the ban is as robust as possible.
“There is time before April 2020 for the Government to consider regulation of rehoming organisations and sanctuaries, ensure full traceability of all puppies sold, and strengthening of the pet travel scheme.
“We urge the Government to ensure the additional pieces of the puzzle in tackling the puppy trade are put in place as soon as possible to make the ban a success.”