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puppy farms

Public warned not to buy puppies this Christmas as some farms 'churning out' hundreds of dogs

The DSPCA has urged people to adopt and not to shop, where possible.

ANIMAL WELFARE CHARITIES are warning the public not to buy puppies this Christmas as some dogs are kept in appalling conditions to meet demand.

It comes as dozens of animals were seized in Dublin earlier this week. Up to 38 dogs and other animals were discovered in the searches as part of a multi-agency operation involving Tallaght Gardaí with the assistance of the dog warden from South Dublin County Council and the DSPCA.

Puppy farming is believed to be rife across the country. One rural puppy farm, which has since been the subject of garda and ISPCA attention, is continuing to produce a large number of dogs as charities warn of the dangers of buying from unscrupulous breeders and call for legislation to address the issue. 

Official sources and animal charities have told The Journal that the practices at this particular puppy farm, where dogs are being sold for hundreds of euro each, are on the “more extreme end of the scale” but similar operations are up and running across the entire island. 

One woman, who was misled by the dog breeding outfit, explained how she met the contact for the breeders in a car park, where she handed over €800 in exchange for the dog. But when she took the dog to the vet, the reality of what had just happened set in. 

“At the time we were completely oblivious. It all began when my brother and I responded to a breeder as we were interested in purchasing a puppy. The breeder asked us to drive to a car park. This should have been a serious red flag, but we were way too naive. When she arrived and met us there, she led us to an empty house, where two puppies were waiting. We were so excited that we didn’t see the wood for the trees.

“When we asked her to show us the parents, she said the mother was in her mam’s house, far away. She then quickly redirected the conversation and we couldn’t have been more oblivious.

Having visited our vet, he explained our new puppy was extremely malnourished, which subsequently resulted in Rickets (a bone condition which has caused him trouble in walking/going up or down the stairs), poor vision, and kennel cough. From his blurry eyes, it is likely that he had not seen daylight, was more likely in a cage, and had not been fed properly enough. He was also really dehydrated.

It’s understood the breeders in this case maintain hundreds of female dogs on-site. There is no legal obligation for breeders to have a limit on the number of breeding bitches in circulation at one time. Many puppy farms across the country have over 100 pregnant dogs at one time. 

Gardaí are aware of this puppy farm and have previously carried out investigations into its conduct. No criminal charges have ever been brought against the people behind the business, which is registered and pays tax. Charities and campaigners working in this area are concerned that the law doesn’t go far enough in this regard.

Puppy farming growing

Many vets report coming across large numbers of puppies that are not microchipped. Some of them are in very poor condition, according to well-known vet Pete Wedderburn.

Speaking to The Journal, Wedderburn, who is urging people not to buy a puppy for Christmas this year, said it is very common to see new pups come in with an assortment of ailments. 

“I would say it’s common for us to see puppies in bad condition. There’s one that stands out for me and that is that I was called to see a puppy on Christmas Day last year because I was on call and they just bought the puppy the previous week.

“They’ve been told the puppy was eight weeks old, which is the legal minimum when you’re selling a puppy. The puppy was about five weeks old if that. It was very young, it was a tiny puppy that should never have been away from its mother.

tallaght-animal-seizure-1-390x285 Some of the dogs seized in Tallaght earlier this week. Gardaí Gardaí

“And the puppy was dying. It had collapsed. It had serious vomiting and diarrhoea and it was in real trouble.

“So we had to take the puppy in and care for it over the following three days. It actually ended up doing really well and is now nearly a year old and it’s an absolutely adored family pet,” he said.

Despite this good news, Wedderburn said the dog could easily have died. 

“It was very close to the edge and they would have been devastated by the loss of the dog as well as the money because they paid a lot of money for the puppy.

“But the second thing was that that is why the law is in place. Because it’s wrong for puppies to leave their mothers before they’re eight weeks of age. And it’s wrong because it’s dangerous because they’re not well enough developed to manage on their own. They’re far more likely to fall ill like that.” 

Legislation

The Christmas season usually brings a rush of puppy purchases and charities are concerned this will encourage unethical operators to increase breeding to meet demand. The DSPCA believes the current rules and regulations surrounding dog breeding fall far short of what is required to end cruel practices.

As it stands, illicit dog breeding falls under The Animal Welfare and Health Act, enacted in 2013. Section 12 of that law makes it an offence for someone to cause “unnecessary suffering or to endanger the health or welfare of that animal”. It also covers “neglect or reckless” behaviour directed towards the animals. 

Animal rights activists and some politicians believe that there are two problems with the legislation: first, there is not enough enforcement of the laws, and second, it is too broad.

Gardaí continue to urge people who have concerns over animal welfare to contact them or local councils or charities. However, much of the work usually falls to the ISPCA and DSPCA due to resourcing shortages elsewhere. The charities themselves only have a limited number of inspectors.

Coming up to Christmas this year, the warning for the public to avoid unscrupulous dog breeders is as necessary as ever, according to Gillian Bird of the DSPCA, due to the amount of profit being generated.

“Let’s say they have 250 bitches and just 200 produce pups. Let’s take a small average – four per litter that go on and be sold. That’s €800k in one cycle. Bitches come into season twice a year so you’re looking to double that amount of money for one year and that’s just being conservative,” Bird explained. 

She says the rules and regulations are inadequate and need to be tightened. 

“We want a cap on the number of dogs being bred in one facility, firstly. What Covid has taught us is that the guidelines mean squat. We want a lot of these guidelines to be actually put into the legislation and made law.

download (2) Dogs seized by gardaí in Tallaght earlier this week. Gardaí Gardaí

“And that would be the likes of the numbers of people who are caring for these animals; what happens to the animals once they reach the end of life; the maximum numbers of litters that adults can have, as well, you know, and the how much socialising the animal must have.

“Because a dog is not an animal that should be mass produced, they are a social animal, they need to spend time with their moms, the moms need to be happy in a proper environment to actually teach the puppies.”

Inspections

County councils are charged with the responsibility of carrying out inspections on breeding facilities. However, Bird says that often up to five days’ notice of any inspection is given, meaning breeders who don’t follow the rules have an opportunity to hide certain aspects of their business.

A spokesperson for one rural council said it carries out inspections on foot of complaints or inquiries it receives from members of the public as well as Gardaí, saying they do as much as is possible with the resources afforded to the council.

City councils are also responsible for welfare inspections. A spokesperson for Dublin City Council (DCC) said: “We carry out annual inspections on approved/ certified DBE (dog breeding establishments) and also public reports to possible illegal DBE’s as well as assisting the Gardaí with inspections of properties.

“Since the formation of the Animal Welfare Unit (earlier this year) we have inspected six properties for alleged dog breeding. The creation of the new Animal Welfare Unit has seen great success and improvements in the welfare of dogs and horses within Dublin City Council, we will continue to strive to increase awareness and education around responsible ownership of animals.”

Political will?

Calls have been made in the Oireachtas for changes to legislation also. Senator Lynn Boylan has been a vocal adversary of puppy farms and sits on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. She said consumers need more information to make informed decisions about where to buy animals from. 

“How can you expect people to do due diligence if they’re not able to access the information regarding breeders? At the moment, there is no database accessible to the public which will give you specific information about breeding.”

She said that while a breeder’s license number might be given in some instances, there is no document that will allow you to cross-check that license number with the breeder in question. 

“If you’re buying a car, you can run the license plate and get the history of the car. Whereas when you’re buying a dog there’s not even that information,” Boylan added.

Speaking at an Oireachtas committee earlier this year, the senator also said some puppy farms have up to 600 breeding bitches and that pups coming from those establishments often have behavioural and congenital health issues.

“The DSPCA rightly pointed out that responsible breeders can still make a living while ensuring proper socialisation, human interaction and genetic screening. However, it is clear from polling that the public don’t want industrial breeding of dogs and they want full transparency on puppy farms.

“There is no reason why there is not a single publicly accessible database of all of the dog breeding establishments, their size, their owners. There is also no reason why we can’t legislate for authorised authorities like the DSPCA to be able to carry out unannounced inspections of those establishments”, she said.

Fine Gael’s Fergus O’Dowd has also been vocal in his condemnation of unethical breeders operating in Ireland. 

In January of this year, he called for the criminalisation of breeders who are making huge amounts of money while not adhering to guidelines. O’Dowd even went as far as to say that the Criminal Assets Bureau could become involved in some of the most extreme cases. 

Advice this Christmas

Gillian Bird has urged people to adopt and not buy dogs but admitted there are also issues with that. 

“The problem with that is that rescue centres have a shortage of dogs. Because this whole story about all those dogs being handed into rescue centres everywhere – that’s not happening.”

She said most of the time, the DSPCA is taking in mostly old animals with a myriad of conditions that owners can’t afford to treat.

“So you know, and that’s the problem. And this is where the issue arises that people know that she goes to rescue centres, but they go to a rescue centre. The rescue centre says I’m really sorry, we haven’t got anything suitable for you at the moment. And people have this “I want it now” attitude so they go online, and they find something and €800 is a very good price for that puppy.”

Pete Wedderburn has also urged repeated the call for people to adopt or to buy responsibly. Planning ahead, choosing an ethical breeder, as well as regular trips to the vets, are all must-dos for people getting a new pup, at any time of the year, according to Wedderburn. You can read his guide for correctly buying a dog here.

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