Archive for April 2010

Breeders, puppy farming and buying a quality puppy

April 21, 2010

Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

Back in 1973, Joe Cartledge, Liz Cartledge, Angela, and I created the Dog Directory.  I was involved for five editions and Joe and Liz published a sixth before it was sold to Dog World who continued publication quarterly for several years.  I mention this to explain that for close to forty years I have been involved and concerned about the quality of puppies being sold and supporting efforts to improve access by the general public to good breeders.  This continues in the development of the PuppyIndex scheme of the Pet Care Trust, my support for the Kennel Club’s Accredited Breeder Scheme and of course, any other well-designed scheme which encourages breeders to breed good quality puppies and enables the general public to buy puppies that are sound and healthy.
That said, there are significant weaknesses in every approach and even if the government brought in statutory requirements either through new legislation or the development of secondary legislation in conjunction with the 2006 Animal Welfare Act, the experience of previous canine related government initiatives such as the Dangerous Dogs Act and the Breeder of Dogs Welfare Act, indicates that it would not achieve its objectives.  This is partly because many of those tasked with implementing its provisions would simply not to do so because of the cost and effort involved while many of those that should comply would find ways in which compliance could be avoided.
Given that the likelihood of legislation being introduced is very remote, we are left with what can be achieved through the good offices of those committed to the provision of quality puppies to the market.  The routes are many and varied.  Until a few years ago, Exchange and Mart, local papers and the canine press were the preferred options for direct sale to the public and thoughtful potential puppy owners would use these mechanisms.  However, the vast majority of families wanting a dog would be attracted by the puppies which had been whelped to the local stud dog in their immediate vicinity or go to an RSPCA rescue kennel, one of the major dogs homes, or to a pet shop or a trading kennel, many of which were set up in the late 60s and 70s.  Incidentally, over the last forty years the number of puppies (and kittens too) sold in high street pet shops has decreased significantly to the extent that only about 2% of such pet shops now sell puppies and kittens.  Trading kennels, on the other hand, have continued to do a roaring trade.  These are premises set up primarily to sell puppies and as they need a Pet Shop License they are sometimes confused with the responsible high street shops many of which will provide advice and lists of responsible breeders through schemes such as PuppyIndex but who do not themselves sell puppies.
In the meantime the Internet has provided a huge resource both for information about dogs, dog breeds and dog training and there are many websites which have been set up to provide puppies for the public.  Some schemes are very carefully moderated and monitored while others just provide a mechanism for puppy breeders whether they are small-scale hobby breeders or involved in the mass production of puppies to fulfil the market.  Many of the best breeders have their own websites with a great deal of information for the general public about the puppies they breed and there is no doubt that this is excellent marketing as well as providing, usually, clear and helpful information.  But how does the public know which are the responsible breeders and which source their stock from puppy farmers?  It is often very difficult to tell.
To make matters more complicated for those websites who make a real effort to only promote the best breeders, the demands made on the clients are considerable.  The more reliable the site the greater the amount of work is involved to fulfil the criteria requested.  The inevitable result is that the best sites have the fewest number of litters available.  Given that the Kennel Club registers about a quarter of a million puppies each year (probably something less than one third of the total born) you can see that there is a long way to go.  In practice, if all the best breeders moved to a larger scale and bred many more puppies so they fulfilled the demands of the market, ( as is largely the case in Scandinavia where almost all puppies born are both planned and of pedigree) then the puppy farmers would not have a market and would cease to be involved.  But while most responsible breeders are so narrowly focused this is unlikely ever to happen.
We are left therefore, with the situation as it now stands – complicated by many individuals and organisations trying to take the moral high ground by using the shortcomings of other provision in the market to boost their own credentials.  One of these is an organisation called Puppy Love which has done a great deal of excellent work bringing the publics attention to the dreadful conditions in which some puppies are bred.  They have recently issued a press release slamming the Kennel Club for being hypocritical and unethical.  Inevitably some other organisations have used these criticisms to promote their own agendas without seriously considering the implications of the ideas of what they are now helping to promote.  One of the criticisms is that the Kennel Club has in some sense ‘stolen’ material which is rightly the copyright of Puppy Love because some clips of puppy farms were used in a recent Crufts programme on More4.  On investigation, as expected, this is not the case.  Channel Five who broadcast the original programmes about puppy farming supplied the tapes to More4 legitimately so Puppy Love should address their concerns to Channel Five.  A second criticism was that the Kennel Club was behaving hypocritically in condemning puppy farms while accepting registrations from large-scale breeders.  No consideration was given to how the KC could make a distinction between ‘large-scale breeders’ who are puppy farmers and those who legitimately breed a lot of puppies in what might be excellent conditions The truth is that much of the Kennel Club’s income is derived from registrations and the vast proportion of this money is spent in research into canine diseases and in the development of its ABS.  Despite its weaknesses, the ABS has more resources devoted to it than any other similar scheme and it is by far the largest too.  As a result many more breeders are being brought into a net which makes demands on their behaviour.  It is true that some will ignore those demands but at least there is a system in place which continues to grow, is introducing face-to-face monitoring and has the resources to follow up complaints.   The conclusion drawn was that both the KC and its Accredited Breeders Scheme was unacceptable and discredited.
Where do these people come from?  As explained above, any scheme and any organisation will have its weakness and those weaknesses do not necessarily derive from the work that they do: it is much more likely that the complexity of our society and human imperfections and feelings make fulfilling the criteria which all responsible breeders would like to see in place impossible.  One would hope that everyone who has as their objective the better health and welfare of puppies would at least be able to recognise the work being is being done by others.  The Kennel Club, rightly, feels it should bring puppy farming to the attention of the general public and did so through the Craft television programme.  It is bizarre that other organisations will ‘disapprove’ of them for so doing in an attempt to promote their own agenda.
This is not to say that either the Kennel Club or any other organisation should be given uncritical support.  Where there are weaknesses these should be pointed out but criticisms should be based on shortcomings and not just used as a stick to beat an organisation or group with which you do not agree.  The world of dogs is composed of a myriad of organisations and individuals involved in protecting, promoting and encouraging dog ownership and their best possible care.  It is a great shame when some do not recognise the strengths of others and are not prepared to give them credit where it is due.
Naturally, there will be occasional serious clashes of philosophy internally and such disputes are inevitable in a democratic society, but this article focuses on the relationship between those of us involved in the world of dogs and the outside world – that of the general public whose only concern is that that their dog is sound and healthy, that it is well-behaved and that it leads a long and comfortable life.  Let’s get our act together, folks!