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Tory MP Urges People To "Think Carefully" Before Buying Puppies

Michael Gove and Andrew Mitchell displaying their dogs at the Westminster Dog of the Year show. (Alamy)

5 min read

People are being urged to “ask questions” about where their puppies are coming from, as a new committee report highlights the increasing prevalence of unregulated canine fertility clinics and the widespread illegal trade and importation of pets.

A new report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee has set out a number of issues with the pet trade and welfare of animals in the UK, including the use of canine fertility clinics linked with the trend for ‘designer dogs’ with inbred lifelong health issues and dogs bred to have “aggressive traits”.

The inquiry exposed a major rise in canine fertility clinics, increasing in number from less than 40 in 2020 to over 400 in 2023. These clinics often involve people without veterinary qualifications carrying out illegal surgical procedures such as caesarean sections on dogs.

The report published a number of recommendations for Government, including launching a public awareness campaign to discourage buying ‘designer pets’, closing a major legal loophole which allows the importation of animals that have been inhumanely mutilated (such as ear cropping and tail docking in dogs and declawing in cats), and reducing the number of dogs and cats that can be imported by an individual into the UK. The committee also recommended implementing a ban on the importation of puppies and kittens under six months old, and banning the importation of pregnant dogs in the last third of their gestation.

It also warned that the shelving of the government's Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill last year has “stalled progress on key animal welfare issues” and that DEFRA must therefore ensure that every provision from the Bill should be brought into force during the current Parliament, perhaps through the introduction of Private Members’ Bills.

Sir Robert Goodwill, a Tory MP and Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, told PoliticsHome that the committee’s inquiry showed that while the government has a responsibility to regulate the pet trade effectively, the public also needed to “think very carefully before they get a pet”. 

With thousands of people getting pets for the first time during the Covid-19 lockdowns, there was a boom in international illegal pet trading, and shelters have since been inundated with a record number of abandoned animals needing to be rehomed. Dr Sam Gaines, Head of Companion Animals at RSPCA, told the committee that to maintain the normal adult population of dogs in the UK, there is demand for around 600,000 puppies a year – more than half of which enter the market from unlicensed breeders. The report has urged the government to make the list of licensed breeders public, as well as highlighting the need for adequate resourcing of local authorities for them to enforce regulations.

According to Goodwill, a record demand for dogs and puppies in the UK has been fuelling organised crime. 

“Far too many people don't ask questions about where their dogs are coming from,” he said.

“The main role Government can carry out is to draw people's attention to the fact that if they're buying a puppy, get it from a registered breeder or get it from a family pet, and don't be tempted to see these dogs online, meet a guy in a pub and have the dog passed over – it’s going to be likely to have health problems.”

According to Goodwill, the problem also extends to rescue dogs, for which he urged people to  "rescue a dog in this country”.

“We've heard some very disturbing reports about people, who for the best possible reasons, were rescuing a dog from places like Romania or Serbia or even further afield and thought they were doing a charitable thing, when actually there's quite a big trade in dogs being illegally imported. 

“Some of these dogs were street dogs that had been rounded up, which had a lot of health and behavioural problems. Some of them were family pets that have been stolen in these countries and then shipped across.

“Ultimately, organised criminals are involved in this trade, and it's important that people know that when they're sourcing a dog. If you're rescuing a dog from some countries like Serbia, you’re probably just engaging in an illegal trade where organised criminals have procured the dogs.”

Goodwill added that in many cases, “inbred behavioural problems” in breeds such as XL bullies were exacerbated by poor living conditions.

“Having a dog is a major financial commitment,” he said.

“Vet bills are escalating so people do need to think carefully whether their lifestyle budget would actually make it sensible to have a dog and also look at the type of dog they get.”

The committee report mentioned the role of social media and influencers in promoting ‘designer dog’ breeds with health issues and popularising dog ear cropping for aesthetics. 

“Social media has played a part in a number of these issues,’’ Goodwill said.

“Tail cropping is probably the most cruel aspect of this and, and it seems to be driven by fashion and dogs belonging to various influencers and people who should know better.”

While the committee MPs have called on the Government to launch a public information campaign to try to discourage this trend, Goodwill suggested that celebrity influencers should have a bigger role to play, paying tribute to the animal welfare campaign work carried out by comedian and broadcaster Paul O’Grady, who died last year.

“Government awareness campaigns are not, in my view, the best way of influencing people,” he said.

“I think people are much more likely to hear the story from people that they know and trust.”

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