If you follow animal welfare news outlets or social media channels, or even the mainstream news, you’ll probably have heard a lot about Lucy’s Law this week. However, with the Brexit furore, it might have passed you by, if (like many of us!) you turn off (literally or metaphorically) to any news from parliament. So, in this blog, I’m going to look at this new legislation, and see what it means for animal welfare.
What is Lucy’s Law?
It’s the informal (and therefore easier to remember!) name for a proposed ban on third party commercial sales of puppies and kittens. Essentially, it seeks to make it illegal to buy a dog or cat, aged less than 6 months, from a pet shop or any other retailer. The only person who could lawfully sell a puppy or kitten would be the breeder – and they would not be permitted to sell animals bred by anyone else – or a rehoming charity.
Under existing law (The Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018), it is already illegal to:
- Buy or sell puppies, kittens, ferrets or rabbits aged less than 8 weeks.
- Sell dogs from anywhere other than the place where the dog has been living (e.g. over the internet).
In addition, these regulations make it a requirement to hold a license if you wish to:
- Sell animals commercially as pets.
- Breed dogs for sale.
- Breed more than two litters of puppies in any twelve month period.
However, these regulations do contain certain loopholes – in particular, it is possible to breed animals (especially dogs and cats) in very poor conditions, and sell them through a third party, e.g. a pet shop. It’s also been noted that young animals (puppies and kittens) bought from pet shops are more likely to be “impulse purchases”, and therefore less likely to go to a prepared and suitable home, than those bought face-to-face, or bought when older.
Who was Lucy?
Lucy was a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who had spent her life in a puppy farm, in very poor conditions, being used to breed puppies for sale. She was rescued in 2013, and became the face of the anti-puppy farming campaign. You can read more about her here.
What is puppy farming?
Puppy farming can be defined as breeding large numbers of puppies for commercial gain, without taking care of the health or welfare needs of the puppies or their parents (see this Kennel Club page for more details). Typically, parents are housed in small cages, and are bred more often than is healthy. The puppies are often sold on too young, and are rarely suitably socialised or receive preventative health intervention. As a result, puppies from this background frequently have serious medical and behavioural problems, and the parents live in very poor conditions.
Obviously, kitten farming is the same but for cats.
It’s worth bearing in mind that not everyone who breeds dogs and cats for profit is a puppy farmer. Many people occasionally breed one or two dogs or cats who are genuine pets, and make some money on the transaction. There are also plenty of reputable commercial breeders who may make money from their animals, but who are scrupulous in making sure their animals are well cared for and well looked after.
In this sense, personally, I think “puppy farming” or “kitten farming” is a poor choice of terms, because any good farmer will care for his stock and make sure they are well looked after. Certainly in my experience, that’s the norm in the UK’s farming community, and while I’m aware there are exceptions to the rule, I’d prefer not to tarnish the reputations of all the good farmers out there. As a result, I actually prefer the American term “Puppy Mills”, with it’s industrial overtones. Ultimately, that’s what we’re really talking about here – an industrial production line of weak, sick and scared puppies and kittens going off to be sold to unsuspecting customers.
Why is it important this week?
Because this Monday, the government presented the new regulations to parliament, and so we can hope that they will soon become law!
Will Lucy’s Law end puppy farming?
Sadly, no. It is possible some unscrupulous retailers will rebrand themselves as “rehoming charities”, for example, and continue trading under that exemption. It also won’t stop people just breaking the law and selling puppies and kittens online, and then handing them over in car parks etc.
However, it will make it much harder for such people. If they are caught, there will be sanctions that can be brought against them. Ultimately, anything that reduces the number of puppy- and kitten-mills in the UK is something we should be supporting.
What can we do to bring an end to puppy and kitten farming?
It’s easy – rehome dogs from reputable charities, or buy puppies from reputable breeders. If everyone did that, the problem would disappear overnight! There’s some great advice from the RSPCA on finding a reputable breeder, and of course it applies just as much to cats and other pets as it does to dogs.
Want to know more?
The Government Press Release on the subject is unusually informative, and includes some great quotes from interested parties.
While the full text of the proposed ban isn’t available at the time of writing, it will probably be based largely if not exclusively on the original proposal, which you can read in the June 2018 consultation document.