Written by Janetta Harvey
Today's puppy business is lucrative, rife with cruelty and criminality. Buying a puppy involves navigating a tangle of lies and deception, if you're to avoid putting money into the pockets of puppy farmers. In 1996 I bought my first puppy, a miniature schnauzer. Jasmine came from a dubious breeder, I knew it, but turned a blind eye to warning signs that she was a puppy farmer. When Jasmine died over 14 years later after a wonderful, love-filled life, I knew better and did not want to repeat my mistake.
There was a lot more information around when I started looking for another puppy and over the years my guilty conscience had been pricking hard enough for me to buy Renae from a genuine and kind home breeder. I travelled a couple of hundred miles to collect her on a snowy January day, knowing that she would one day become sister to a rescue dog.
Susie-Belle was that dog. A dog who in 2011 changed my life. Since adopting Susie-Belle I have written four books on rescue dogs and puppy farming, countless blogs and articles, appeared on national radio, and TV speaking about the charity founded in her memory, Schnauzerfest. Susie-Belle died in 2015 having survived 8 long years as a breeeding dog in a puppy farm before being rescued. We shared 4 years together, a journey which taught me much about the cruelty and wicked betrayal of dogs that today’s lucrative puppy business is.
What is puppy farming?
Puppy farming is the commercial breeding of puppies with little or no regard for the physical or psychological health of dogs. A puppy farm can be described as anywhere that breeds puppies on an intensive basis in conditions many would regard at best as inadequate, inhumane at worst. Breeding dogs are given the bare minimum to keep them alive and productive. Once no longer able to produce puppies that are saleable, they are dispatched. A fortunate few, like Susie-Belle are given to rescuers and if their health can be recovered, they get to live regular lives, as they should always have enjoyed.
When rescues take in breeding dogs from puppy farm backgrounds, they are often faced with dogs suffering multiple, complicated and expensive to fix problems. Tumours, cataracts, infections, rotten mouths, neurological issues are all common. The charity which Susie-Belle inspired me to start, Schnauzerfest provides funds for these veterinary costs. Since 2014, over a quarter of a million pounds has been raised for the purpose of paying vet bills for puppy farm dogs. This shows how costly it is for rescues, while puppy farmers easily make vast sums of money selling puppies from neglected parent dogs.
In some cases rescue comes too late and their days of freedom are few. For others rescue never comes and they die, or are killed.
Puppy farms are located all over the UK. Wales has a disproportionately high number due to the rural locations that large-scale operations favour. Disused agricultural buildings - cattle sheds, pig pens and the like - provide the space to contain large numbers of dogs, where the noise and smell can be hidden from scrutiny.
Dogs are given low levels of care, little attention and certainly no love. Conditions in puppy farms are shockingly awful and yet local authority licences are still issued for them. Much to the surprise of people who care, puppy farms do operate legally. Enforcement of animal welfare regulations is dismal and there are many breeders who ignore the rules knowing it’s unlikely they will be enforced, let alone that they’ll ever be prosecuted.
Large sums of money can be made by puppy farmers. Drug dealers have moved to selling puppies for the easy money they can make. In both legal and illegal breeding operations it’s all about maximising profits. This means keeping costs to a minimum: care, food, shelter, human contact all costs money and to provide more than the basics to keep dogs alive eats into profits and won’t be done.
A puppy farmer may not be who you think
It is not only on farms that breeding dogs are treated badly. The puppy business today has many guises. Good, reputable breeders are far outnumbered by the bad, those only in it for the money they can make. It can be very hard for puppy buyers to know that when they hand over their money they're not supporting hidden but widepsread cruelty.
Since the publication of my first book in 2014, Saving Susie-Belle, I’ve been contacted by countless readers who have either adopted retired breeding dogs, or bought puppies only later to discover their true origins. Some of the dogs are not from agricultural ‘farmed’ environments. They’d lived in breeders' kennels and in more than one case, show breeders. Clean, licensed, open to the public businesses that satisfied legal requirements for animal welfare but where behind the façade, dogs' lives were still being damaged. Glossy websites can easily impress buyers, masking the fact that parent dogs live in breeding sheds, to be brought into smart sales areas, or family living rooms where buyers stay none the wiser.
It’s well known that nowadays, high volume, commerical breeders are selling from residential homes. They pretend to have bred the puppies themselves, with a female, adult dog being present to complete the cosy image. In other cases, the female dog may well be the mother to the puppies, but once the litter is sold, she will be back in the shed, neglected and unloved, until it’s her time once again to be bred from.
From April 2020 in England (not UK-wide) the law requires buyers to deal with breeders directly. In effect this bans pet shops and other third party dealers from selling puppies. However, this does not provide any guarantee that the puppies bought from breeders have not been bred in sheds, barns, puppy farms or that the parent dogs do not live terrible lives of neglect. Much vigilance and education on what to look for is widely needed.
The Westminster government has an educational campaign to assist with this. Search online: ''Get Your Pet Safely''
Never buy from anywhere except the breeder’s home. You want your dog to live as a family member, in your home, so it should begin life in a good place. So should its parents, not in a kennel, not in a shed.
Before you visit, ask the local licensing authority whether the breeder is licensed. It’s a legal requirement that they display their licence number in adverts. Ask both breeder and local authority how many dogs they're licensed for. Some authorities will provide this information, some won’t, but ask anyway as it can be very helpful to understand how high volume they are. If they’re licensed for anything over 10 dogs, that's a lot of puppies to be responsible for each year. Ask yourself if that number of dogs can possibly live as family members? They will be living as "breeding stock". Ask yourself if this is what you want to support. Think beyond the puppy you will take home and remember the parent dogs, not living as cherished family pets.
Do not collect a puppy from anywhere other than the breeder’s home and never have one delivered to you. You need to see where they've been bred, where the parents live. It may be offered to you as a helpful service to deliver your puppy - resist this sales tactic. It's just a way of preventing you from seeing the conditions the dogs live in.
If you have children do not take them on the first visit to a breeder - your judgment will be clouded by their excitement. You need a clear head when puppy buying in today’s market.
When visiting the breeder, make sure you see the puppies interacting naturally with their mother. Bad breeders and dealers use adult dogs to fool buyers into believing the adult dog present is mum. While it's illegal from April 2020 (in England) to sell puppies away from mum, it's nigh on impossible for average buyers and especially first-time buyers who have little or no experience of dogs and puppies to know if an adult is mum or not. Interaction between puppies and their mum should be happy, natural and healthy looking. Mum should be interested in her puppies.
If you’re given excuses for why mum is not present, don’t accept them and walk away. It’s common for dealers or shoddy breeders to say she’s at the vet, or out for the day, lies designed to dupe you.
Look to see that the puppies and mum live in the home. They should not be brought to you from outside. Look to see if there are outbuildings or sheds, these may be housing dogs who are temporarily brought into the home to give an impression the puppies are bred in the home.
Puppies should be lively and playful. If any are lethargic, have signs of illness or do not look healthy in any way, do not buy thinking that you’re saving it. All you’re doing is making a sale, creating a space for another puppy and keeping the worst of the puppy business going. Instead, report the person selling the puppies to the local council, Trading Standards and the RSPCA. Follow up your reports with each agency to see what action is taken.
Ask to see health certificates for any screening that your chosen breed ought to have. Puppies must be microchipped and registered to the seller before sale. Before visiting ask what they are doing about the first vaccinations. The breeder should be happy to supply you with vaccination and microchipping records and have treated the puppy for worms and parasites.
Puppy dealers and poor breeders do sell puppies with both fake and genuine pedigree papers, Kennel Club registration papers and free puppy insurance. None of this guarantees the puppy has not come from a puppy farm. The Kennel Club operate two tiers of registration: one is a basic registry of litters, puppy farmers register puppies on this scheme. All that ‘KC Registered’ means is the breeder has paid a fee to the Kennel Club. Their Assured Breeder Scheme has a level of KC inspection, but is still no guarantee of anything.
Never feel hurried into buying your puppy. Do not expect to make contact with a breeder and within a day or so to take your puppy home. It’s a commitment for many years and good breeders will want to make sure you’re the right person for one of their puppies, as much as you need to be sure the breeder is a good one. Expect to ask, and be asked, plenty of questions. Good breeders often have waiting lists, you need to be prepared for it to take time.
Finally, use the Puppy Contract. If the breeder won’t use it don’t buy from that breeder.
Greedy, unscrupulous breeders are thriving in a poorly regulated industry with woefully enforced welfare standards. It’s a trade worth millions of pounds to those involved and utter misery for the dogs. It’s a business that has nothing to do with a love of dogs but everything to do with the easy money that can be made from them.
The harm that the breeding industry inflicts is a complete betrayal of our companions, one that’s only possible because puppy buyers oontinue to provide a ready market. If you can consider adopting, it is a more reliable way to avoid falling into the many traps set for puppy buyers. However, rescues are currently unregulated and there are deceptions in this side of the puppy business as well as the retail side.
Only use a reputable rescue. Being a registered charity adds a level of accountability, but is certainly not a fool proof way of knowing a rescue is adhering to best practices, or is not a front for puppy dealers. With changes in the law around puppy sales taking effect, it is known that operators in the puppy trade are exploiting rescue as an outlet for puppy and dog sales. Much vigilance is needed when either buying or adopting your new dog. The Association of Dogs and Cats Homes who promotes best practice in animal welfare for dogs and cats, has a list of members and is a good place to start looking for a local rescue.
Many rescues do have young dogs, those bought and given up once the novelty fades. Take your time to find your new family member, whether that is buying a puppy, or finding the right rescue dog. The time taken will be time perfectly spent for all concerned, not least the dogs.