The National Register of Home Breeders

It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change. – Charles Darwin

The Canine and Feline Sector Group(CFSG) to which all the major animal charities, pet related community organisations and special interest groups belong, is the most powerful lobby group representing pets in society. It holds what they call a ‘big tent’ meeting each year in the atrium of the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in Central London.  The CFSG was founded by our own Prof Steve Dean MRCVS (plus lots of other degrees) while he was Chairman of the Kennel Club and it has been a hugely successful organisation.  I am a member of CFSG and, as I am sure you can appreciate if you are a regular reader, I have not always been in agreement with its direction but to be fair, this is mainly and understandably down to the greatest proportion of its representatives being more dedicated to general welfare and protection than the promotion of dog ownership and its tendency to think that more and stricter regulation is the answer to every problem.  Welfare and protection has to be the highest priority and given some of the problems that we have in the world of pedigree dog (and cat) breeding this is not a stance against which we can argue whatever our passion and commitment to the concept of ‘pedigree’.

This year’s event was held on the day after Crufts but there was still an excellent turnout to discuss a number of important issues – one of which concerns us greatly.  There is no doubt that the new regulations regarding dog breeding have already had a marked effect on our world. We have seen the number of puppy registrations in 2019 go down by 18,000:  this is a very significant percentage and everything I hear indicates that it is not going to get better as local authorities make dog breeding more and more difficult. The objective is of course, the welfare of bitch and puppies but the regulations are having a significant effect particularly on those small breeders who are already dedicated to the best for their stock.

Back in early 2018 the CFSG read through what was proposed by Defra in the new Animal Licensing Regulations and a number of difficulties were raised and we asked that more thought should be given before they were brought into force.  Defra refused but quickly realised that there were some serious anomalies and had to republish them just eight weeks later. Over the next few months more pressure was applied and a Briefing Note was published in March 2019 but this still did not resolve many of the problems because local authorities were not applying the regulations with common sense and there were serious misunderstandings about the concept of commercial activity. It is my view that Defra just used the inept phraseology regarding ‘profit’ which was used in the previous Dog Breeding Act: I do not believe that they consulted HMRC then or 2018: had they done so the commercial test would have involved all nine ‘badges of trade’ so that it would be clear that hobby breeders did not have what is called ‘commercial intent’.

Concerns continue to be expressed

We now have a great deal of evidence (apart from Kennel Club registration figures) to show that hobby breeders are reacting to this commercial approach by local authorities and the accompanying bureaucracy by simply deciding not to continue breeding.

Let me now introduce you to Shelley Tomsett who some of you will know as a successful breeder of Mastiffs originally and Dachshunds more recently.  She was brought up in a dog breeding/showing home and her mother bred and showed Poodles and other toy dogs, Bulldogs and Leonbergers under the Dajean affix and won CCs at Crufts.  She remembers coming to one of my presentations years ago in Kent and describes herself as a ‘proper dog person’. She does not show very often but her own dogs have been awarded tickets and she is rigorous in testing her breeding stock. Shelley had her first litter at 16 and her husband breeds and works gundogs. What is particularly important in this context is that she is a scientist and worked as a scientific officer in a research facility.  With a small-scale breeder called Grace Chen, Shelley and others, with a little help from myself have formed the Home Breeders Association, the definition of which are breeders, whether or not they are of recognised pedigree, whose dogs are free-roaming in their home.

On behalf of the Association, Shelley launched a survey which was sent out to breeders and which has returned some interesting and fascinating results. Having worked in research the survey itself was very well designed and confounding issues (see previous Speakers’ Corners for more on confounding issues) were carefully considered so its findings are likely to be reliable.  She asked a lot of questions but in summary it clearly shows that although 46% of breeders now licenced became licenced due to the new legislation in 2018, the balance of those surveyed are reluctant to do so, not just because they are unhappy with what they see as far too stringent conditions and the bureaucracy but because they are worried that they may come under local authority scrutiny as far as planning is concerned. This is entirely understandable because there is a great deal of evidence that local authority animal welfare inspectors sometimes insist that the number of dogs in any given household is too many and some dogs must be re-homed, changes demanded might require planning permission and there is a ‘presumption’ that the number of dogs in any household should not exceed six.

The Kennel Club Assured Breeders Scheme too often ignored

There is also a great deal of evidence that the Assured Breeders Scheme run by the Kennel Club which should provide all the evidence required for a full five-star licence, is being ignored.  In fact, 27% of those surveyed have given up breeding altogether because although they are hobby breeders and do not need a licence they are not prepared to jump through all the hoops the regulations demand and many are fearful that they may be taken to court for breeding without a licence.  If the local authority wins this case because of misunderstandings of and the serious anomalies in the regulations, they can be convicted of a criminal offence.  This is not scaremongering: it is happening now.

It may be too late to repair the damage but the CFSG has at least recognised these problems and is strongly pressing Defra to amend the regulations. As I made clear at the meeting, I do not think that those amendments go far enough and I hope that the survey, the findings of which have been sent to the CFSG (the Home Breeders Association is an associate member) will further amend the recommendations before final decisions are taken.

The regulations were brought in to target the backyard, hidden breeders many of whom use friends and family addresses to hide their true locations and continue selling as unlicensed breeders.  It would appear that no effort is being made to find such breeders and a senior licensing officer at the meeting made it clear that local authorities do not have the resources to follow through on this legislation – which means that responsible hobby breeders are the ones being targeted.

There was also a discussion on the new law coming into force in April this year which will insist that there should be no third-party sales of puppies less than six months old.  We were told categorically that this law is sound and will solve the problem. I spoke at length to the barrister who made that comment.  She is an exceptionally nice and intelligent person but I begged to differ: the breeders that work using the above scam/s will almost certainly find their way around it.  Buying a puppy is a private matter: it is not like smoking, the ban of which was very successful for it is a very public activity.  Puppy sales will go underground, there is no doubt because, as already made clear local authorities do not have the resources to chase them down.

I will write more about the Home Breeders Association in the future. For the moment, as I have explained to them, the wheels of bureaucracy grind exceeding slow: it is sometimes depressing but if sufficient pressure is put on institutions, whether it is one of government such as Defra or the Kennel Club, progress, even if it involves compromise, can eventually be achieved.

 


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