The government is going to ban third party sales of puppies and kittens in England

A British vet, Marc Abraham, has been campaigning against puppy farms for over a decade. This week, he and fellow-campaigners gained a huge victory, with the announcement that the UK government is planning to ban third party sales of puppies and kittens. This radical move – tagged as “Lucy’s Law” by campaigners – means that breeders of puppies and kittens will have to sell directly to the public. The new regulations will force breeders to be directly accountable for the animals that they sell. There will only be two links in the chain: breeder and new owner.  Rehoming organisations are the only exception to this rule.

It has already been announced that in October 2018, new Regulations will come into force around a number of activities involving pet animals in England. These include Dog Breeding, Dog and Cat Boarding, Selling Animals as Pets, Hiring out Horses and Keeping or Training Animals for Exhibition.

Overall, these new laws represent a significant tightening up of regulations on how animals are used in profit-making businesses, with the intention of improving animal welfare. There are no records of the number of puppies sold via third-parties, which makes it difficult to know how many puppies are sold in this way but estimates vary between 40,000 and 80,000 . If you imagine a stadium full of this many people, you can see the huge impact that these new rules will have.

What’s the problem with puppy farms anyway?

People aren’t against puppy farms for sentimental reasons: this isn’t an airy fairy dream of making sure that nice fluffy puppies have a happy time in their youth. The point is that the aim of puppy farms is to produce puppies which will go on to become family pets. Studies show that dogs born in high volume commercial breeding establishments have an increased incidence of behavioural problems compared with dogs from small scale private breeders. They are more fearful and more aggressive. And the most common cause of death of young adult dogs is euthanasia because of behavioural problems.
This is why the puppy farm issue needs to be addressed: the government has an obligation to do everything possible to ensure that commercially bred puppies have the best possible start in life so that when people buy puppies, they are unlikely to end up with problems one or two years later.

Doesn’t the ban on third party sales just mean that puppy farms will become puppy salesrooms?

While it is true that the ban on third party sales does mean that people breeding puppies will be obliged to sell them directly to new owners, the new Regulations coming into force in October will place serious new obligations on the breeders.

Specifically, new formal requirements will be introduced, as follows:

  1. Puppies will be obliged to be shown with their biological mother to any prospective purchaser.
  2. Breeders must have a programme to socialise puppies and prepare them for life in the environment in which they are going to live.
  3. Breeders will have to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the dogs are of good physical and genetic health, of acceptable temperament and fit for function (e.g. be able to see, breathe normally, and be physically fit and able to exercise freely).
  4. Breeders will not be allowed to breed from dogs that have required surgery to rectify an exaggerated conformation that has caused adverse welfare, or require lifelong medication.
  5. Breeders will not be allowed to breed again from bitches that have had two litters delivered by caesarean section.

Furthermore, the new Regulations insist that anyone making any money out of puppies or kittens will need to obtain a license. This means that the only people breeding animals who will not need a license will be breeders who produce a small number of puppies (i.e. less than 3 litters per year) who sell them without making a profit.

So while it is true that “puppy farms” will also be “puppy salesrooms”, they are going to be so tightly regulated that it will be far more difficult for them to carry out practices that adversely impact on animal welfare.

So has the puppy farm problem finally been solved?

The short answer is “no”. During the campaign to have third party sales banned, some campaigners were surprised that certain large charities (like Dogs Trust) still had reservations. The reason for reticence may be best summed up by the phrase “the devil is in the detail”. It’s all very well to have strong laws in place to protect animal welfare, but these are of little value if they are not properly enforced.  The concerns of Dogs Trust included:

  • The need for full, comprehensive training for those entrusted with the licensing and inspection of anyone breeding or selling puppies.
  • The need for full regulation of rehoming organisations across the entire UK to avoid “fake sanctuaries” being set up by unscrupulous puppy traders.
  • The need for full transparency and traceability of all puppies via registration and licensing of all breeders and rehoming establishments.

The concern that ethical breeders in the UK will simply not be able to meet the growing demand for certain types of puppies. This may mean that there will be strong commercial pressure for unethical breeders to find ways to dodge the new law in new and clever ways, creating a black market in pups. This includes those currently illegally importing puppies into Great Britain from Central and Eastern Europe via the Pet Travel Scheme. These criminals remain unfazed by inadequate penalties and continue to adapt their trade to overcome the measures that have already been tried to stop them.

Vetster option 01 (Blog)

The government has listened to these concerns, and is listening to other concerns too via its online consultation about the proposed ban on third party sales: please spend ten minutes submitting your own views to ensure that the government is as well informed as possible. It is hoped that such concerns will be properly addressed so that the final result does indeed come close to finally solving the puppy farm problem.

Obviously, it is also important that as well as England, the other jurisdictions of the UK (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) put similar rules in places, to ensure that the puppy farm underworld does not just move its operations elsewhere. And indeed, regulations on the import of puppies from other countries need to be strictly enforced to ensure that the new laws don’t result in a surge in undetected puppy smuggling.

The UK government has been taking bold and strong theoretical steps towards improving the welfare of dogs: now we need to see the results in practice, on the ground. And we need to see other governments (such as in Ireland) taking similar supportive actions.