By Libby Anderson, Policy Advisor, OneKind

As a member of the #SayNoToPuppyDealers initiative, OneKind is greatly encouraged to see work going on at so many different levels to address the suffering and heartache caused by the irresponsible breeding and sale of puppies.

In England, the government has just announced a welcome consultation on banning third party sales of puppies and kittens, adding to a raft of welfare reforms already scheduled to come into force this October. Among other things, anyone breeding just three litters of puppies for sale in a year will now require a licence – a reduction from the previous threshold of five litters.  New licence conditions will also oblige breeders to show prospective purchasers the puppy along with its mother.

Meanwhile in Scotland, the Scottish Government pledged in last year’s Programme for Government to improve the licensing regime, so that conditions in Scottish breeding units can be properly controlled and breeders identified. The Scottish Government also plans a new communications campaign to make people aware of the risks of buying puppies online and rehoming dogs from abroad. 

And more recently, a proposal for a Member’s Bill by Christine Grahame MSP takes a wide-ranging approach to making both vendor and purchaser more responsible for the long-term welfare of the puppy.  Christine has a track record in animal welfare legislation, having steered both the Licensing of Animal Dealers (Young Cats and Young Dogs) (Scotland) Regulations 2009 and the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 through the Scottish Parliament in recent years.  

In line with the English regulations, Christine aims to bring more breeders into the licensing regime, but she goes further – proposing that every “transfer” should be registered with the relevant local authority.  At present, hobby breeders can sell up to four litters each year without any inspection or knowledge on the part of the authorities, and this could account for a great many sales.   Without being onerous, the proposed system of temporary online registration would promote animal welfare, consumer protection and compliance with tax laws, as well as encouraging or mandating the use of a puppy contract.  Councils would also be able to gain a more comprehensive picture of dog breeding activities in their areas.

So that every puppy has a better chance of enjoying a good life in its new home, the proposed Bill aims to make prospective buyers think seriously in advance about their own circumstances.  People can have misguided notions about the ease of caring for a dog, and inappropriate motivations for acquiring a puppy. The Scottish Government’s recent report on the sourcing of pet dogs from illegal importation and puppy farms gives many examples of people buying dogs for all the wrong reasons (such as acquiring the same sort of dog as David Beckham), and also not realising the extent of the commitment they are undertaking.  One group of experts commented:

“… while we have huge numbers of people saying how wonderful having pets is, there are a significant number who come up with comments like, 'It's much more hassle than it's worth', 'She's much more expensive', 'I shouldn't have chosen that breed', 'I hate not being able to go on holiday' and some quite negative things.”

And so, the idea is that purchasers will be required to work through a range of questions, and vendors will be expected to make sure that these have all been considered.  Many responsible breeders already ask such questions – but it needs to become the norm.

Purchasers would also be required to check that the breeder is licensed or registered. This is important because, without sufficient research, it is easy to get caught up in the illegal and irresponsible trade.  We all understand how hard it must be to turn away from a little creature in need, even if we feel there is something wrong with the set-up.  Checking in advance that the breeder is licensed or registered will help people to avoid the emotional, on-the-spot pressure that the puppy traffickers rely on, and the problems that result. 

The consultation (which closed last month) is only a starting point for potential legislation, but it sparks a number of important debates.  Should the breeder licensing threshold be set lower, at just two litters per year?  Should the fine for failing to register be set at £200 as proposed – or higher? Should there be an outright ban on third party sales (dealing) of dogs? Is it fair to place legal responsibilities on purchasers and how can these be enforced?

I know the answers that OneKind would give to these questions, but #SayNoToPuppyDealers is a partnership and opinions may vary, so I will save those for another forum.  I’m sure, however, that we all agree on this: responsibility for the welfare of the puppy – both at the point of sale and in its future life – falls on both parties to that all-important transaction.