For most of us, no, they aren’t – either they’re loving friends, or they’re faithful working companions (or both!). However, whatever our relationship with our dogs, they are sentient, sensitive creatures. Puppies aren’t an inanimate commodity to be bought and sold – they have specific care and welfare needs that must be met. Which is why I was horrified to read about a new BBC programme, that’s been commissioned by BBC THREE.

With a working title of “Will My Puppies Make Me Rich?”, this show could have been the BBC’s opportunity to really hit out at puppy farmers and irresponsible breeders. Instead, it seems, they want to encourage people to join them.

What’s the problem?

Puppy farming – breeding dogs specifically and solely for profit – is a disaster for animal welfare. Breeding dogs are typically kept locked away in inadequate accommodation, producing puppies who are sickly or suffer from behavioural problems later in life. Dogs are frequently starved or beaten. Dogs with inferior genetics, or known genetic defects, are bred to turn a quick profit. This is NOT acceptable – but the amount of money makes it very attractive to some people. And this show seems to be designed to encourage more people to do it!

Especially worrying in this case is the argument from the producers that this show will “capitalise on the demand for designer dogs”. Firstly, many designer breeds have poor conformation and poor genetic health. Most worrying of all it betrays a mindset where these aren’t living creatures, they’re just cute props for the BBC to shore up their ratings. After all, who cares what happens to the props after the cameras stop rolling?

But there’s more to it than that – the programme will follow people with little or no breeding experience, and judging by the title, the whole aim is to cut corners and make more profit. So how does this advance animal welfare, when the BBC, the national broadcaster, seems to say that it’s OK?

Who’s upset?

Well it’s not just me (or my editor who was positively ranting about this earlier!). Let’s take the RSPCA for starters, who have written to the BBC to complain about the basic premise of the show.

However, fellow vet Marc has made perhaps the most damning statement.

He calls the show a “hugely irresponsible message to send to viewers by a publicly funded, or indeed any organisation”, before arguing that “BBC THREE is commissioning a documentary that effectively promotes & follows a dog breeding business experiment, posing a risk not only to the welfare of the dogs, puppies & people directly involved, but potentially manufacturing cruelty, which can only have a detrimental effect on the lives of thousands of other dogs & humans”.

What does the BBC say about allegations they will be encouraging puppy farming?

The BBC has subsequently claimed that this is not their intent – but the very nature of the programme is itself a cause for concern. Personally, I think they need to make it far clearer how they intend to showcase good welfare… Rather than issuing a bland statement that a show about people trying to get rich from irresponsible dog breeding isn’t actually about people trying to get rich from irresponsible dog breeding.

What can I do about it?

Feel free to complain to the BBC! However, even better, sign the petition here. If numbers are all that matter to the BBC, then let’s give them numbers… and show them that they need to do something about animal suffering, not encourage it.

Update – the BBC have now further amended their original clarification to say that the new working title is “Britain’s Puppy Boom: Counting the Cost” which sounds like an improvement. Let us hope that they have learnt a lesson from this episode – and that this isn’t as bad as originally proposed.