How is puppy farming defined?
The term “puppy farming” means the commercial breeding of dogs in large numbers.
What is the law on puppy farming in Ireland?
The Irish government brought in legislation to control puppy farms which became active in 2012, but we regularly seem to see raids on puppy farms with deplorable conditions, as well as seizures of pups at ports.
So what’s happening?
There are two aspects to this:
- Mass production of puppies
- Illegal export of legally produced puppies
1) Mass production of puppies
- If anyone owns more than five entire bitches, they have to be registered as a “dog breeding establishment” (DBE) which involves a licence being granted by the local authority, as well as regular veterinary inspections to ensure that standards are maintained.
- There are currently 73 centres formally registered as DBE’s housing anything from 6 breeding bitches to over 400 puppies. There are some very good quality breeders out there with less than 50 breeding bitches, but it is difficult to provide an ideal environment when there are much larger numbers.
- The key issue with larger establishments is the challenge of raising a puppy that is well socialised, and this is critically important for puppies. If they are not well socialised they become nervous, frightened or even aggressive as adults.
- For pups to be well socialised, they need to be handled a lot, learning to know and trust humans. It isn’t easy for this to be done in an establishment with hundreds of puppies.
- Despite these challenges, farmers have been actively encouraged to get into the business (e.g. by Teagasc) to breed dogs as a way of supplementing farm income.
The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA) estimates that around 30,000 puppies are produced legally in this way every year, mostly for export to the UK. These official figures suggest that Irish puppy farms are seriously big business compared with their peers in the UK. A Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) study last year estimated about 70,000 puppies were produced by the 895 licensed dog breeding establishments in Britain. So the UK, with a human population of 15 x Ireland, produces just twice as many pups, making our per capital rate of legal puppy production around eight times that of the UK.
And that’s only counting the officially registered puppy farms. These Irish figures don’t include:
- Illegal, unregistered DBEs that nobody knows about.
- Private individuals’ homes and those premises with fewer than six breeding bitches, who do not need to register.
- “Guardian” establishments. One “trick” that is known to be used by puppy farmers to avoid the need to register is to spread bitches across several premises, with relatives or friends.
Taking all these factors into account, Irish export puppy numbers are more likely to be as high as 100,000 annually. It’s these statistics that have led to Ireland being called the “puppy farm capital of Europe”.
Aren’t there laws against puppy farming in Ireland?
The new dog breeding establishment laws do provide enforceable guidelines for the set-up and operation of breeding facilities, with powers for prosecutions with significant penalties for those breaking the law. However, there has been concern in animal welfare circles that the local authorities – who are supposed to enforce welfare standards at Dog Breeding Establishments (DBE’s) – look the other way, or refuse to prosecute when told of possible infractions. As an example one breeder who was discovered with around 50 breeding bitches was not prosecuted but instead was just invited to apply for a breeding license, which he was then given. Instead, he should have been punished so that others would be deterred from not registering. As a result of this leniency, others will so no good reason to register: why not just wait until you are forced to do so?
In another case, the local authority did not prosecute a registered DBE for having more than double his permit for 200 breeding bitches. Instead, they just asked him to apply for a bigger number of bitches, which he did successfully. This lenient approach does not deter people from breaking the law.
Other issues include:
- a shortage of official inspectors to carry out inspections
- the fact that official inspections have to be pre-arranged: random, unannounced inspections are not allowed
To be positive, a working group is currently reviewing the legislation to tighten up aspects that are not working effectively.
2) Illegal export of legally produced puppies
This Is the other area of concern, with hundreds of under-age, unvaccinated, undocumented puppies being smuggled to the UK. There are now serious EU-imposed controls on the export of dogs to the UK, with rules affecting pet dogs, and different rules for puppies destined for selling to new homes
a) Pet dogs
All pet dogs have to be microchipped, have a pet passport plus must be given rabies vaccination 3 weeks before going to the UK
b) Dogs and puppies that are destined for new homes in the UK
The Balai Directive is an EC directive on the cross border transport of all dogs other than personal pets. Any dogs being exported for commercial purposes (e.g. any puppy to be sold or rehomed) must comply with Balai Directive – this has been in place for two years.
This means such animals:
- Need to be microchipped
- Must be vaccinated against rabies 3 weeks before travel
- Have to be at least 12 weeks on date of travel (and since rabies vaccine must be given at 12 weeks, they really ought to be at least 15 weeks old )
- Have to be health checked by vet 2 days or less before date of transport and must have a certificate stating this
- Premises of origin must be registered or approved by the authorities in the exporting country as “Balai compliant premises”: the owners have to complete a form and send it to Dept of Agriculture
- Must be transported in a “Type Two Transporter” – this is a vehicle that has been formally registered for transporting dogs
Obviously, complying with these rules involves a significant financial cost, and that’s why so many people try to smuggle puppies out, in car boots and vans.
Authorities in both the UK and Ireland have begun to crack down on the ferry port routes – often from the Republic via Northern Ireland and on to Scotland – used to transport pups.
International, multi-agency action is clamping down on puppy smugglers
“Operation Delphin” is a joint operation by animal protection officers in Scotland and Ireland (SSPCA, RSPCA, ISPCA, DSPCA) as well as customs, Revenue Commissioners, ferry operators and other UK and Irish authorities. They have been using intelligence gained from observing people selling puppies in the UK to target vehicles and individuals at ports. Belfast to Cairnryan and Dublin to Holyhead are the main routes. These have led to the seizures of puppies that have been featured in national news recently. Today, on Ireland AM, I had Edward with me. He’s a Cocker Spaniel crossed with a Poodle who is pictured at the head of this article in the boot of a car when he was rescued from a puppy smuggler earlier this summer. The ISPCA took him in, and he was rehomed to a lovely family in County Wicklow.
Edward was lucky to be rescued from a puppy smuggler
What can the public do about stopping puppy farmers and illegal puppy smuggling?
It’s important that the public are aware of the facts outlined above, and additionally, anyone considering buying a puppy should take specific steps to ensure that they don’t accidentally buy from a puppy farmer:
- + Always visit the home of the breeding bitch
- + Ideally, visit when the puppy is still suckling but not yet ready to go to a new home, so that you are not fooled
- + Never meet someone in a car park or lay by
- + Insist that the puppy is microchipped
- + Ensure that you are given proper microchip documentation
- + Choose a friendly, relaxed pup, not a tense, nervous one
I don’t understand why we are continuing to give licenses to people for 400+ breeding bitches (not puppies, breeding bitches). There is no earthly way to properly care for this number of dogs on a single premises, never mind proper care, socialization, handling and raising of the subsequent pups.
Standards of care need to be raised and enforced. Numerical limits need to be lowered and enforced. Minimum standard of handling, socialization and enrichment should be brought in.