A local puppy farm welfare case

The Dog Rescuers on Channel 5

The link above is to a documentary on puppies and the work of the RSPCA – featuring my local branch and the dogs I’ve been walking during my volunteering there!

Apparently there has been a lot of interest in the dogs shown and the centre have posted on their Facebook page to remind people that, due to being part of an ongoing case against the owner, they’re not yet available for adoption. I’ve been really careful not to share any photos or videos of the case dogs but now they’re on national TV I think it should be okay to provide a link to the show! The particular dogs shown in the video may not be up for rehoming but the centre has MANY, MANY dogs in need of forever homes if you’re looking for one.


The problem with puppy farms

Last month saw the start of the #SeeThemSuckling campaign against the production and sale of farmed puppies. Puppy farming is one of the big challenges in companion animal welfare at the moment, so today’s post looks at what it is, why it’s a problem and what can be done to tackle it.

What is a “puppy farm”?

The name refers to businesses commercially producing pet dogs. It’s commonly used to describe fairly intensive breeding and implies profit being put before the welfare of the animals. BBC Panorama filmed a great documentary about these “farms” which shows footage from inside some commercial dog breeders’ kennels. It’s still available here on iPlayer and I’d definitely recommend watching as I hadn’t realised the set up and scale of some of these breeders until I saw the film.

So what’s the problem?

Although it’s possible in theory to raise lots of dogs well to sell as pets, puppy farms can often pose the following problems:

  • Puppies are not socialised during crucial periods of their development, leading to future behavioural problems with other dogs and humans.
  • Puppies are not habituated (used) to experiences they will have in later life, such as going for a walk outdoors or riding in the car, which can lead to fear and more behavioural problems.
  • Dogs are kept in small kennels on inappropriate bedding so not get the level of care that pet dogs in the home should ideally receive.
  • Dogs are bred too often with no time for bitches to recover from a litter.
  • Puppies may be weaned too young.
  • Lack of hygiene and disease controls in large, multi-dog operations cause health issues.
  • The dogs may not all get prompt veterinary attention when required.
  • Some breeders are known to use inhumanely small or closed cages for dogs, especially when they are about to give birth to puppies.
  • Long distance transport is required to supply puppies to dealers and buyers, sometimes crossing borders illegally – which has huge repercussions for health and disease control.

Several of these problems are caused by obviously illegal actions, such as the tiny boxes some breeders use for bitches giving birth to puppies. Others are roughly within the law – although neglect and abuse are legislated against, whether or not a dog is sufficiently socialised and exposed to stimuli as they grow up is much harder to prove.

Another huge problem is wilful deception by dealers claiming that their stock of farmed puppies is home bred. Misled customers buy these dogs without realising the health problems they could have and the industry that they are supporting. No one advertises that their puppies are farmed but the dealers go further than omitting this key fact and may claim that the puppies’ mother is out for a walk, that they are an accidental litter from a family pet or that you can’t come to their home for an innocent reason like renovation work so need to collect the puppy elsewhere. The BBC even uncovered breeders supplying a “show bitch” to dealers, of the same breed as unrelated puppies, to convince buyers that they were buying a homebred pup.

What’s the legal position?

To “keep a breeding establishment for dogs” (described as producing 5+ litters per year) businesses must be licensed by their local council under the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999. Breeding and selling dogs without a license can lead to fines, imprisonment and disqualification from keeping dogs, but that’s not the whole problem – as well as unlicensed breeders, welfare at licensed outfits is also an issue.

Each year to renew their license a breeding establishment must have an inspection by a vet to ensure that the dogs are well cared for. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 sets the standards for this care but as with all the animal welfare scenarios I write about, sometimes these are allowed to slip even if they were in place during the annual vet inspection. In these cases, the RSPCA can inspect and prosecute if a crime (such as neglect, which the Act above lists as a criminal offence) has been committed, but only if they have enough evidence to do so. Gathering evidence takes a lot of resources, so the problem with poor welfare on puppy farms continues.

What can be done?

Puppy farms remain because there is a huge demand for puppies. The popularity of certain breeds, such as pugs and bichon frise, plays a part in pushing would-be owners to buy these puppies rather than adopt a shelter dog or mongrel. But ignorance on the part of buyers and wilful deception by puppy farmers and dealers means that demand for puppies in general is often met by “farmed” dogs.

With the problem attracting more and more media attention, there are few excuses left for would-be owners who buy a farmed puppy. Somehow though a big, profitable market for breeders and dealers remains so sharing the message and educating your friends is important. I was really shocked to learn about Dogs4Us which is literally a puppy shop in the North of England. Make sure your friends and family know all about farmed puppies and how to ensure they never buy one!

The simplest advice if you are buying a puppy is from the #SeeThemSuckling campaign, that if you can visit your pup with his/her mum and see them interacting the chances your new companion has been farmed are much lower. Never agree to have your pup delivered alone or collect him/her from a location like a car park or motorway services. If you have any doubts, it’s better not to buy the puppy – although it feels like rescuing it, you might be supporting the neglect and abuse of his/her family. You can report someone you think may be selling dogs from puppy farms here. Of course, you could decide not to buy a dog at all and instead take one of the thousands who are awaiting homes in rescue centres!

The government are currently reviewing feedback on their plans to update several types of animal establishment license in England. This would modernise licensing of pet shops, kennels and dog breeders amongst other business, so it will be interesting to see what changes are made.

It’s horrible to think that many dog lovers are unwittingly supporting abuse of the species we all agree is “man’s best friend”. Through educating dog buyers and cracking down on the breeders and dealers who supply the dogs, there’s a huge opportunity to make a change. Spread the word to your friends and family, #PoutforPuppies and adopt your pets from shelters whenever you can. Thanks for reading!

Want to take action?

  • The Puppy Love Campaign suggest writing to your MP and letting them know your view. They provide a letter template to show your support for an updated Pet Animals Act, preventing the sale of puppies in pet shops.
  • The RSPCA see the next step as being compulsory licensing of everyone selling a puppy and if you want to sign their petition, you can find it here.
  • Post your #PoutforPuppies selfie on social media (if that’s your sort of thing!) to promote the #SeeThemSuckling campaign.

References/further reading:

The Kennel Club – resources on puppy farming

RSPCA page “Scrap the Puppy Trade”

RSPCA report “Sold a pup? Exposing the breeding, sale and trade of puppies.”


A July update

I should have known that putting “posts every Friday” on the top of the page would jinx my blogging. The last couple of weeks I’ve been incredibly busy and although I started a few posts, I never managed to finish them. So here’s a quick update on some of the animal- and countryside-related things I’ve been up to.

At the end of May two old friends and I visited Rockingham Horse Trials in Corby. I’ve never watched eventing before so the cross country was especially exciting to see! We took lots of photos and admired the fences some of which were very extravagant, for example the old Ford tractor which I appreciated because my grandad worked for them for most of his life. There was also a water jump adorned with two JCBs which was very impressive.

In June I paid a visit to Cheryl, Charlie and Chloe on the farm where I was lambing in the spring. It was so lovely to see them again and catch up as well as seeing some of the lambs a few months on! Here are Wilbur and Holly who were the first cade lambs I bottle fed. I think Charlie had to feed ten of them in the end and they got a bit rowdy as they gained strength!

Holly and Wilbur (3).jpg

The village I grew up in holds an annual festival called Wakes week at the end of June. Apparently Wakes weeks became a tradition in Northern England during the industrial revolution but I’ve always believed the Kirk Ireton one to be a sort of holiday for the farming community. Throughout the week there are evening events such as darts, a quiz, music in the church and a fun run around the village. On the Saturday there is a procession with themed floats pulled by tractors and the Wakes Princesses. The girls at the local school all get a turn at being princesses and this year some of the boys actually declared and had a go too – I couldn’t walk in some of the heels the lads were wearing! After the procession there used to be activities all up and down the road but recently this has all been moved onto the school field. You can get cakes in the school, burgers and drinks in the marquee and watch the maypole and morris dancing, the tug-of-war, falconry demonstrations and the chicken racing.

I do think Wakes has gotten smaller in my lifetime which is a shame so two years ago when Tom and I were invited back to be on a float we got involved. This year the theme was “board games”… and here we are making right fools of ourselves in the name of keeping tradition alive:


Going home has also yielded a quick rescue of four sheep who’d escaped onto the road at night…

Sheep rescue.jpg

…finding a bird skeleton in good enough condition to look at and asking my mum to keep it somewhere safe for later study…

…and possibly the grossest discovery of my biological career, a decomposing mouse full of life! (Honestly this is really not for the faint hearted.)

Zozo, did you catch him and leave him behind the couch? Or was it Daisy?


Work has been incredibly busy lately too. In April I moved roles and now look at issues with the sewer network. No-one will believe that it’s much better than it sounds and actually more interesting than my previous placements with the company! But to relate this back to animals, I did rescue this crow who’d got mixed up in a sewer issue last week. He didn’t seem able to fly at first but after being threatened with “wildlife rehabilitation” he recovered, bit me and flew off.


I’ll leave you with a lovely photo of old lady Zozo enjoying the sun in my mum’s garden. See you next week when hopefully I will be back on track with my blog posts!


The backlash against vets

The other evening I was browsing the internet, reading various vet-related things as part of my ongoing attempts to understand the profession as best I can before I join it. Along the way I found a link to an American site named the “Veterinary Abuse Network” (http://vetabusenetwork.com/). As I read further down the page, I became more and more surprised. The website (which cites the First Amendment, a whole host of “disclaimers” and adamant notices that you won’t reproduce any of its content elsewhere) is dedicated to exposing rogue vets who, through carelessness, laziness or implied malicious intent, are harming animals.

I’ll let you make your own decisions about “VAN”. It’s a very emotive page with a lot of case studies and links to sift through. On the one hand, their message is important: if you think your vet is negligent, there need to be avenues through which to report this and seek compensation if there was an adverse effect on your pet. I went back to Google and looked at what you can do if you suspect your vet of negligence. In the UK, this would be dealt with through the civil courts and the Citizens Advice Bureau offer advice on their website. The RCVS state that they usually become involved only in cases of serious professional misconduct. However, don’t suppose that because they aren’t involved in negligence cases the RCVS doesn’t care. Practicing UK vets must be members of the RCVS and made a declaration that “my constant endeavour will be to ensure the health and welfare of animals committed to my care”. The declaration is backed up by detailed codes of conduct.

Continue reading “The backlash against vets”

Little Ham

This week’s blog post will be a little late, so here are two new photos of Little Ham to tide over any avid readers*. He’s needed his nails trimming recently which causes so much wriggling but luckily we are down to the last few claws… I do a couple at a time to avoid stressing him out but also for my own sanity!

Little Ham 1

Little Ham 2

*I don’t presume to have any of these, but two of my friends told me they had read my blog recently so thanks loads guys 🙂

Also in case anyone notices/worries: the lump on his front right leg has been seen by a real vet. He’s had it most of his life and it doesn’t seem to cause him any problems so we decided not to attempt risky tiny hamster surgery. The torn up ear is fine too, also a long standing feature!

Honestly, I’m not a vet.

My family are very supportive of my career goals and I don’t mean to offend anyone by writing about their questions; they’ve put up with all sorts of biology trivia and gory detail at the dinner table over the years. I really love it when anyone asks me an animal-related question. However, I am absolutely not qualified to give medical advice and I won’t be until at least 2022. As a result, I have to try and divert their misplaced faith in my animal-healing abilities…

Last weekend I went home for my birthday. My mum hugged me, wished me a happy birthday and told me there was “a problem”. “I found a baby rabbit in the hall,” she said. “It doesn’t seem to be hurt but would you take a look at it?”

Continue reading “Honestly, I’m not a vet.”