Christopher Evans MP: The horrifying truth behind Britain's secret puppy trade
The 1950s with its black and white televisions and teddy boys almost seem to belong to another world, yet pets sales are governed by legislation passed when Churchill and Attlee were still leading their respective parties.
The Pet Animals Act 1951 is supposed to protect the welfare of animals sold as pets. This means the the legislation has not been updated to account for the internet or other technological advances in the past 66 years, therefore the sale of pets and puppies online is still by and large unregulated.
As a result, more and more puppies are being purchased from unlicensed breeders operating large-scale dog breeding businesses – more commonly referred to as ‘puppy farms’.
We are a nation of dog lovers. The RSPCA estimates that the UK pet dog population currently stands at 8.5 million, with one in two households owning a pet. Is there any wonder why they are called man’s best friend?
However, this is not reflected by the figures. While Defra have defended the Pet Animals Act 1951’s definition of a pet shop as ‘sufficiently wide enough to include the sale of pets online’, the appalling reality of the online pet trade says otherwise. Battersea Dogs & Cats Home estimates that 88% of puppies born in Great Britain are bred from unlicensed breeders.
Accounts of the life of a dog in a puppy farm is harrowing. Mother dogs are subjected to years of torment, treated like machines and seen only as pathways to profit. As a result, puppies can face often untreatable health problems and deformations, leading to owners having to abandon them as they cannot deal with the financial and emotional hardship of owning a sickly dog.
Take young Bulldog Enid for example. She was brought into Battersea Dogs & Cats Home with multiple health problems, ranging from being unable to walk or sit properly, to skin and breathing problems. She was also found to have a serious heart condition. Battersea Dogs & Cats Home was her one last hope for a better life, and luckily due to intensive treatment and care she has gone on to live a healthy and happy life with a new owner.
Yet for every Enid, there are hundreds of dogs who are not so lucky and do not receive treatment in time. Puppies bred from unscrupulous puppy farms or smuggled in illegally from across Europe are usually removed from their mothers and sold underage and unvaccinated. They are kept in horrifying conditions. Blue Cross for Pets have found helpless puppies piled up in rabbit hutches without water, malnourished and in very cold temperatures.
The government must act now before the unlicensed, online pet trade spirals beyond their control. We must foster collaboration between the local authorities responsible for dog breeders and animal welfare charities in the third sector, to ensure that pets receive the protection they deserve, yet cannot ask for themselves.
We must stop turning a blind eye to this horrific and cruel trade. Dogs bring so much joy to our lives. That is why we must update our legislation, be stricter with our licensing laws, carry out more thorough inspections of breeding premises and outlaw the third-party sales of puppies.
Christopher Evans is the Labour Member of Parliament for Islwyn