Puppy farms and puppy smuggling: an update & podcast with Pete the Vet on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show

This coming weekend is the annual conference of Veterinary Ireland Companion Animal Society (VICAS), the body that represents pet vets nationally. “Ireland’s​ Dog Breeding Establishments​ and the Dog Trade​” will be the subject of a session, featuring three expert speakers.

Dog Breeding establishments​

The commercial breeding of pups and the trade in such pups has been a topical issue in Ireland in recent years. A comprehensive piece of primary legislation (the Dog Breeding Establishments Act) was introduced in 2010 to start to bring some order to the business of commercial puppy breeding. This legislation requires those who have 6 or more bitches capable of being used for breeding to register with their Local Authority, and to comply with certain standards in relation to accommodation, care of the animals and record keeping. The legislation applies to any scenario where a person is keeping 6 or more female dogs, irrespective of whether they are breeding them or not. Therefore, as well as the commercial breeder, this legislation can apply to rescue centres, hunt kennels or boarding kennels, once they have 6 or more female dogs. The onus is on every Dog Breeding Establishment, regardless of whether or not it is a commercial breeder, to register with their Local Authority. All of the establishments are inspected to ensure they are operating to a certain standard, however apart from the commercial breeders the other categories are deemed fee exempt. There are currently 243 Dog Breeding Establishments in total registered under this legislation, of which approximately 70 premises are commercial breeders (the others are the other types of multiple dog premises, mentioned above).

There are still some secret commercial breeders working underground. They are associated with puppies for sale through adverts with mobile numbers and hand-overs in car parks, as well as smuggling pups out of the country to UK, undeclared at the ports, or hidden in vans. They are a serious, hidden, part of the problem and are difficult to deal with.
The new 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 DBEs – sometimes take a apparently soft approach, or or refuse to prosecute when told of possible infractions.
​Two recent examples are:

  • ​O​ne breeder who was discovered with about 50 breeding bitches was not prosecuted but instead was just invited to apply for a breeding license, which he was then given.
  • ​Another registered DBE ​was not prosecuted ​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. There’s an argument that the softly-softly approach may have been useful when “bedding in” the new legislation to get everyone used to the new regime, but surely, after seven years, it’s now time to get serious, so that people feel an obligation to stick to the rules in fear of some sort of penalty.

Other issues include:

  • a shortage of official inspectors to carry out inspections: more resources are needed
  • the fact that official inspections have to be pre-arranged: random, unannounced inspections are not allowed

​The Dog Breeding Establishment legislation is currently under review and is calling for public input​

​For the past year, a review of the current Dog Breeding Establishment (DBE) Guidelines​ has been underway, and in December 2016​​. Minister Coveney decided to proceed to a wide-scale formal public consultation process which ​will close on 28 February 2017. ​It’s hoped that the current review may address the issues mentioned above.​

Click here for the link to the public consultation if you want to comment.

The Dog trade

​T​he Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA) estimates that around ​​30,000 puppi​​es​ per year​ ​- around 600 per week -​are produced legally​, mostly for export to the UK.

​​However these figures don’t include:​​

  • illegal, unregistered DBEs (as mentioned above)
  • 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​ – that’s 2000 every week​. It’s these statistics that have led to Ireland being called the “puppy farm capital of Europe”​. To put this into context, the entire UK only produces around 70,000 puppies ​from 895 licensed dog breeding establishments.

The main transport routes are via roll-on, roll-off ferries from Dublin or Rosslare, as well as via Belfast or Larne in Northern Ireland. All known dog transporters in Ireland are authorised under Regulation 1/2005 and their vehicles are approved by Department of Agriculture Food & The Marine (DAFM) Guidelines in relation to the approval conditions for vehicles transporting dogs. So there is a legitimate way for people to export pups: the problem is that people break the law.

With 81 million pet dogs in Europe, and an estimated 46,000 dogs traded within the EU each month, this trade big business, with issues including the poor traceability of moving animals, health and welfare of dogs during transport, and consumers being deceived at the other end. There is a need for improved public awareness, further training for vets and networking between NGOs, competent authorities, breeder and veterinary associations in order to help to tackle this illegal puppy trade.

The situation is at least now being helped by the serious EU-imposed controls on the export of dogs to the UK from Ireland, 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. “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. It’s these seizures of smuggled dogs that have made the news in recent times.​

Puppy farming continues to be a serious issue affecting animal welfare. We all need to keep focussing on this issue to make sure that we eventually have good control of puppy production: it’s in everyone’s interest to do this.

Click here for the link to the public consultation if you want to comment on the review of the Dog Breeding Establishments legislation – they are calling for public input.


Questions from listeners

  • I have a golden retriever bought from breeder recommended from retriever club. She has skin problem since a puppy. Her skin keeps shedding like dandruff . I get her cleaned regularly grateful for advice thanks Ann
  • Myself and my girlfriend have always wanted a short-haired dachshund. This particular breed can only be sourced from specific breeders. We adore this type of dog.  I’ve previously volunteered with the DSPCA dog shelter and always believed that any dog I get should be rescued. Paying a breeder for a dog doesn’t sit right with me. I’m torn. I’m not sure how I’d feel welcoming a designer dog into my home, knowing that there are so many unloved dogs in the shelter.  Any advice? Thanks  Alan.
  • We have a Tibetan Terrier (5 months old). We understand that dogs with floppy ears which our dog has are prone to getting ear infections and other ear problems. Can Pete offer any advice on what we should be doing to prevent our dog getting ear infections etc? Many thanks. John
  • How do I know when I’m looking for a pup which ones come from puppy farms? I ve been searching for a Bernese Mountain Dog but can’t tell from the ads! Should I skulk around the premises an hour before I’m due to meet the breeder? Is having both parents suspicious??
  • I’ve tried to report a puppy farm but nobody is interested. Department of agriculture, County council, kennel club, animal welfare groups. What do I do?
  • My dog ate a red chilli this morning! She poached it from the table and all that was left in her paws was the stalk… Will she be ok? I gave her a bowl of milk afterwards but I’m afraid she’ll be unwell?
  • My Doberman bitch was spayed and afterwards became incontinent. My question is; she is on Propinol at the minute but is their any operation to cure or make her better?
  • My 7 month puppy has started jumping on daughters beds & peeing!! Help !!!

To hear Pete’s answers to these questions and to listen to the discussion, click on the podcast below

Pete also filmed a Facebook Live video session, answering extra questions: you can watch the video by clicking here.

Listen to the podcast:

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Please note that I am unable to answer veterinary questions in comments. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health it is always better to contact your vet.

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