First came battery chickens. Now we have batterydogsPuppy farms are spread across the UK, and many consumers have unknowinglybought a farmed dog. Rachel Dixon reports on this disturbing trade and explainsthe right way to buy a puppyBy Rachel DixonA dog behind bars in a puppy farm. Photograph: Puppy LoveI have always wanted a dog. As a child, I pored (pawed?) over the petclassifieds in the local newspaper, looking for the perfect puppy (ideallythe reincarnation of Timmy from the Famous Five books). I badgered myanimal-phobic mother for a dog on a daily basis, just in case shehappened to change her mind. She never did - though I eventually woreher down enough to allow a hamster.What I didnt realise was those border collie pups I lusted after in thepaper - along with the labradors, cocker spaniels and hundreds of otherbreeds - were probably raised in appalling conditions. Reputablepedigree dog breeders rarely advertise litters in newspapers or on theinternet. Chances are, those dogs came from puppy farms.Puppy farms - large-scale commercial breeding establishments - hit theheadlines whenever an undercover TV crew exposes a particularlydisgraceful example of animal cruelty. There is a brief wave of outrage,followed by relief all round that the perpetrators have been brought tojustice.
That relief, however, is misplaced: the exposés are only the tip of theiceberg. Animal charities report that puppy farms are dotted across theUK, with a particular concentration in Wales. The RSPCA estimatesthat 50,000 farmed puppies are imported (or trafficked) into the UKevery year from Ireland, where breeding legislation is practically non-existent. A significant proportion of the UKs estimated eight million dogsstarted their lives in a puppy farm.In a campaign launched last month, the Dogs Trust has renamed theselarge-scale breeding operations battery farms for dogs. This, believesthe charity, gives a more accurate impression of what conditions are likefor the dogs that live - and often die - there. The term puppy farmconjures up a rather bucolic image of Andrex puppies gambolling aboutin fields of clover. The reality, says the Dogs Trust CEO ClarissaBaldwin, is rather different. "These places are disgusting: dark, dirty,dingy and smelly," she said.Bitches are isolated and given the minimum food and water needed tokeep them alive and breeding. They have little veterinary care and noexercise, stimulation or affection. There are bred from continuously untilthey are worn out, and when they are of no more use they are killed. Thestaffing levels are completely inadequate: campaign group PuppyLove cites one farm where a single man oversees 150 dogs.The Dogs Trusts latest campaign poster. Photograph: PRCath Gillie, an assistant field director at the Dogs Trust, has witnessedthe conditions at puppy farms first-hand. She recalls the sheer scale -more than 100 dogs crowded into stalls; the smell - an overpoweringblast of ammonia; and the noise - continual barking for attention.
"One dog tried to jump out of its stall and into my arms," she said."Others were very nervous and cowered at the back. They had no toys,no bedding, just bare concrete."It is hard to overestimate the health impact on puppies starting life insuch conditions. Common problems include canine parvovirus,worms, hip dysplasia, dislocated kneecaps, and congenital heartproblems. Clare Marklen learned the health risks the hard way. Shebought a miniature Jack Russell she had seen advertised online. Assoon as she got the puppy home it became ill, passing blood anddiarrhoea, and had to be taken to the vet. The following day, she foundthe puppy dead in its basket."I was so angry," she said. "Not about the money [£295 for the puppyplus vets fees] - but about the puppys life."Marklen, like many owners, initially had no idea she was purchasing acommercially bred puppy. The ad was misleading. The puppy she wasgiven didnt resemble the ones in the picture, the breeders wouldnt lether see the dogs mother, and it looked too young to be sold. But shecouldnt bear to leave a tiny puppy in a dirty house, where the ownerswere churning out dogs on the ground floor and cats upstairs.This is a mistake that many people make, say campaigners. Howeverwell-meaning, saving a puppy simply fuels the dog farming trade andcondemns more bitches to lives that arent worth living. It is far better toreport any unscrupulous breeders to local authorities.Physical health problems are only one side of the coin. Farmed dogsmental health is equally likely to be damaged during the crucial earlyweeks of development. Starving a dog of animal and human contactprevents it being socialised - learning how to relate to its owners and toother dogs. While a young puppy may still learn social skills in its newhome, not all breeds respond in the same way, and for some it can betoo late. Dogs may become aggressive, fail to bond with their owner, or,conversely, become overly attached. Breeding bitches may reject theirpuppies, or even attack them."These arent farm animals, bred for food. They are pets, bred forcompanionship", says Gillie. It is a cruel irony that humans selectivelybred those varieties of dog that thrive on human company - and are nowdepriving them of that very need. It is unsurprising that such dogsdisplay behavioural problems. As Gillie explains, they never "learn howto be a dog."
Puppies before they are taken from their mother. Photograph: Puppy LoveSo what can be done about the trade? While experts are divided onwhether the current animal welfare legislation (see below) is adequate,all agree that a more pressing problem is enforcement. Local authorityinspectors lack specialist knowledge; they are understaffed and donthave the resources for spot checks; and it is too easy for breeders touse loopholes in the law or falsify papers.Various initiatives are under way. The Bateson report into dog breeding,published earlier this month, recommends establishing a statutory codeof practice under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Bateson alsorecommends compulsory microchipping before the point of sale, so dogscan always be traced to their breeders. The British VeterinaryAssociation (BVA) is in the process of drawing up a puppy contract,designed to protect both vendor and purchaser. The Pet AdvertisingAdvisory Group (PAAG) investigates cases of problem dogs that arebought from classified or online ads.But ultimately, all those attempting to stamp out the trade believe thateducating consumers is the only way to succeed. "The law is animportant part of it, but the consumer makes or breaks these puppyfarms," says Baldwin. Harvey Locke, president-elect of the BVA, agrees."Legislation has to be regarded as a backstop", he said. "The BVA feelsthe most important thing is education."The market in dogs, like any other, obeys the law of supply and demand."While theres a demand for cheap puppies - like cheap eggs - there willbe people willing to meet that demand," says Gillie. She believes that ifconsumers knew their dog and its mother had been raised in goodconditions, they would be prepared to pay more - just as they pay morefor free-range eggs.
Puppy Love is less optimistic. Public education is a lengthy process, andthe messages need to be continually reinforced. "These dogs need helpnow; theyre dying now", said a spokeswoman. "Theyve waited longenough." It may seem counter-intuitive, but the best way to helpmistreated dogs is to buy a happy, healthy dog from an approvedbreeder. Only then will the business of farming dogs die out.I stopped trawling the classifieds years ago, and as a flat dweller Im stillnot ready to fulfil my Famous Five fantasies. But when I am, Ill be callingtheKennel Club or visiting a dog shelter. Farms are for livestock, notpets.The dos and donts of buying a dogDo get advice from your local vet before buying. Vets are more thanhappy to recommend breeders and would much prefer to help you at thisstage than when you have a sick puppy.Dont ever buy from a pet shop. The vast majority are supplied by puppyfarms.Dont buy a pedigree dog at a bargain price after seeing it advertised ina newspaper or online. It is not genuine. Accept that a dog is expensiveto buy and to care for (at least £10,000 over its lifetime); if you cantafford it, dont buy it. Buy from Kennel Club Accredited Breeders orbreed rescue organisations.Do consider classified ads if you are happy with a mixed breed dog, butagree you are buying it on condition that it passes a medical - and getthis in writing. Take it to the vets within 48 hours. Or, even better, buyfrom an animal rescue centre.Do go to the breeders premises to view the puppy, so you can see theconditions first-hand. Breeders may offer to meet you at a convenienthalfway point - never accept.Dont ever buy a puppy if you cant see it interacting normally with itsmother. Farmed dogs are taken away from their mothers early on, but areplacement dog may be placed in the room while you are viewing it.Do check the paperwork. All breeders should be able to provide you withmedical records. Pedigree breeders should have Kennel Clubregistration papers, and certain breeds should have parents hereditarydisease screening certificates.Dont buy a dog on a whim, or as a gift. Research the breeds that willsuit your lifestyle. Bear in mind that a dog needs one to two hours ofexercise a day and can live for up to 15 years.Find more advice on the Dogs Trusts website