Will the new restrictions on Dog Breeders be effective?

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for anmals

All human progress depends on over-reaction – Libby Purves

On the other hand you may also like to consider the relevance of:

Many a good argument is ruined by some fool who knows what he is talking about – Marshall McLuhan

As chairman of the Pet Education, Training and Behaviour Council (PETbc) I am a member of the influential Canine and Feline Sector Group (CFSG) which brings together the main participants in the pet welfare quadrille who have provided the foundations of the largely excellent animal care and welfare legislation in the United Kingdom.  The CFSG includes all the major charities including the Kennel Club and the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy among other smaller players.

You will no doubt have noticed in reading that first sentence carefully that there is a touch of scepticism embedded within it.  I should therefore make clear that the ‘excellent animal care and welfare legislation’ phrase is accurate.  The UK has led the world not just in pet animal care but, largely through the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW), in the welfare of animals used in scientific research too.  By and large the rest of the world has played ‘catch up’ so however much the charity lobby groups press for further reforms it is not for lack of achievement.  At the same time I use the reference to quadrille (an old and well-choreographed dance) because almost all these ‘stakeholders’ have their own focus and agenda, one aspect of which is to ensure there is enough money coming in through charitable donations to pay their staff (some senior staff are very well paid) and keep the organisation afloat.  They therefore come into the political arena with trolley loads of baggage from their trustees (and the committed senior officers – whom the trustees have appointed) which often makes agreement on the direction of progress a battle between different factions.

In some instances one might come to the conclusion that the legislation which has been passed by government has been in spite of rather than because of the commitment of the major players.  At the same time, the vast majority of smaller organisation live very much ‘hand to mouth’ so that the large ones, just like large companies, tend to mask the competition and through their superior marketing and advertising generate income at the expense of the smaller charities.  This means their views, and the views of individuals, hardly get a look in.

So although much progress has been made – the 2006 Animal Welfare Act which has resulted in the secondary legislation currently being introduced and which should be in place by the end of 2018 is an excellent example – there have been spectacular failures, particularly in in the legislation surrounding dangerous dogs and the various attempts to formally regulate the breeding of dogs.  Leaving the question of dangerous dogs aside for the moment (those of us who believe we may have some answers have never been listened to either by the stakeholders or by the government), the question of breeding and puppy sales has been the subject of immense media interest since Michael Gove, the responsible minister at the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) announced that the new statutory regulations being brought in later this year will finally solve all the problems.

I am afraid that it will not.  To complicate matters many Stakeholder experts and lobbyists have convinced both many MPs and the media that the legislation is much too complicated and while this is certainly true the simplistic answer they are putting forward, Lucy’s Law (the idea that third-party sales of dogs would be illegal), is unlikely to work either.  Incidentally, the Kennel Club supports Lucy’s Law and has signed up to the criteria for the new statutory legislation.

It must be stated categorically that the objective of both sides should be commended and supported, for its aim better protection for puppies and bitches.  No one disagrees with the aim; it is just that in practice, neither will be effective.  Incidentally, Mr Gove also announced that Defra was ‘exploring’ the question of a ban on third-party sales and has called for evidence: I would be prepared to make a substantial bet that this is a sop to the lobbyists and will simply not happen.

An argument built on sand

A pro-Lucy’s Law barrister, Sarah Clover, has argued very cleverly in its favour but unfortunately she has built her foundation on previous effective legislation controlling smoking and, to a lesser extent, drinking.  Her view is that the banning of third-party sales of puppies would have similar support but apart from her opinion she has no evidence for it and in any case, the circumstances are quite different.  Unless they smoke, most people dislike smoking so lighting up in a restaurant or any other public place is immediately frowned upon by the majority of people who are affected: peer pressure is what has ensured the success of the smoking ban.  People who come into contact with those who drink too much do not generally approve either: their comfort zone is being invaded and they have general support for the law regarding drunkenness and underage drinking.  In public, both situations are offensive but this is simply not relevant for somebody buying a puppy.

Buying a puppy is not offensive: in fact the vast majority of people love puppies.  Buying a puppy is a positive and emotional process which is fundamentally integral to the lives of many families and as most people are not disturbed by barking, fouling or biting (for most dogs behave remarkably well) then they would view Lucy’s Law as interfering and irrelevant: they would simply not report it.  Think about it – why would they?  Her other contentions also do not stand up to scrutiny because all that would happen if  Lucy’s Law were implemented is that the current ‘puppy traders’ who buy from ‘puppy farmers’ would simply change tack and become a ‘puppy breeders’.  We might also find that the current rescue organisations might even take the same route, as Lucy’s Law would almost certainly result in a considerable shortage of puppies to satisfy the current demand of approximately 750,000 every year.  As I have already implied, it is all about the money.

Three of the major stakeholders, BVA, Blue Cross and Dogs Trust support Lucy’s Law in principle (as do I) but recognise that its implementation is much more difficult than its supporters imagine and that the licensing system proposed by Defra has a better chance of achieving its objectives.

Are you ‘in the business of breeding dogs’?

Frankly, although I think that improvements will gradually occur as a result of this legislation in the long term it will not be fundamentally any more effective than previous attempts.  The main reason is that of complexity and omission.  For instance you may have noticed that in statements and rubric the government always use the phrase ‘in the business of breeding dogs’ and never ‘dog breeder’.  The reason for this is simple and straightforward: a breeder will not be considered to be ‘in the business of breeding dogs’ unless they breed three or more litters in a calendar year.  I have urged stakeholders to consider the idea that the criteria should be based on the number of puppies rather than the number of litters because three litters of Labradors may easily result in twenty or more puppies whereas three litters of Pomeranians may only result in six, so the ‘business’ is in no way comparable.  Not that it would make any difference in my opinion – but it would be more rational.

The criteria demanded of breeders ‘in the business of breeding dogs’ is very demanding and there is no doubt that even the most law-abiding amongst us will be tempted to try and avoid having to register.  This they will do.  In the same way as they avoid the Kennel Club regulation that a bitch should not have any more than four litters in her lifetime by occasionally adding an ‘extra’ bitch to a litter, they will register their bitches to the addresses of friends and relatives, only keeping and formally registering with the Kennel Club the ones that they wish to show or breed from.

Defra have also made it clear that they are not going to fund any of the extra work that is involved in in granting and checking licenses on the basis that the fees charged by the local authority will cover the costs.  If experience is anything to go by many local authorities will simply not bother and others will only pay lip service to the extra work involved.  It is relevant here to remind you that after a freedom of information request to a local authority recently, it responded that they had no licensed dog breeders in their area.  On examination there turned out to be over forty KC registered Assured Breeders, several of which bred a number of different breeds and should certainly have applied for a licence.

I very much hope that the raised profile of the importance of breeding sound dogs which has flooded the media in recent weeks will have an impact on the public’s perception of buying a puppy and particularly that they become more aware of the problems which occur in some Brachycephalic breeds which persist in those that supply the pet market despite the hard work that has been done by so many clubs and so many breeders.

It may be that I am becoming cynical in my old age but I am not holding my breath.


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