Legislation, enforcement and public awareness are the best tools to put puppy farms out of business permanently, discovers Frank Leggett.
When one of Australia’s most notorious puppy farms, located at Pyramid Hill, Victoria, was closed down in early 2015, the case brought the horror of puppy farms to the public’s attention. The dogs were crowded into small wire cages and living in their own waste. They received inadequate food, no medical attention, no grooming and no exercise. The females were kept in a constant cycle of pregnancy and the dogs’ behavioural, social and psychological needs were completely neglected. In Kerang Magistrate’s Court, the owners pleaded guilty to over 200 animal cruelty offences.
While we can celebrate the closing of the Pyramid Hill puppy farm, the sad truth is that right across Australia, there are still plenty of disreputable breeders. Fortunately, there are a number of initiatives currently underway to end puppy farms nationally. About five years ago, the RSPCA initiated a discussion forum from which they developed a strategy to end this trade.
“One of the key elements was establishing traceability,” says Dr Jed Goodfellow, senior policy officer of RSPCA Australia. “The most crucial element is an introduction of mandatory licensing or a registration scheme for dog breeders. At present, only Victoria has a compulsory breeder registration for all breeders with over three fertile dogs or cats.”
According to the RSPCA, Victoria’s legislation is the most developed in Australia. It includes compulsory microchipping, disclosure of breeder ID or microchip number, compulsory registration, compulsory breeder standards and a cap on the number of litters a breeding dog can have in a lifetime. The worst state in regard to regulation is the Northern Territory. This doesn’t mean that the NT is a hotbed of puppy farms—it’s simply that they have no regulations in place.
“There are large puppy farms being discovered that have been in operation for 10 years without ever experiencing a visit from any authority.”– Mark Fraser, chief executive officer, PIAA
The wheels of government grind slowly, but some other states are finally starting to move on the problem. In Queensland, a bill was recently introduced to Parliament that will require compulsory registration for all dog breeders. New South Wales is reviewing penalties relating to animal breeding practices in order to stamp out rogue operators. They are also planning to introduce an $880 fine for selling an un-microchipped dog or cat.
“As an immediate measure, we are providing significant funding for a targeted compliance operation for animal welfare standards in the pet breeding industry,” says Niall Blair, New South Wales Minister for Primary Industries.
“We expect to deliver on our commitment to phase in a companion animal register for breeders and breeding operations by July this year.”
While all this new legislation is very positive, Mark Fraser, chief executive officer of the Pet Industry Association of Australia (PIAA), still sees a problem for enforcement. “There’s large puppy farms being discovered that have been in operation for 10 or 15 years without ever experiencing a visit from any authority,” he says. “More resources need to be put into the RSPCA and the Animal Welfare League in order for them to enforce this type of legislation.”
Goodfellow agrees: “Greater resources dedicated to monitoring and enforcement are essential. The legislation is worth nothing if there’s no funding to enforce the terms. We’d like to see a hybrid approach with the RSPCA enforcing the mandatory breeding standards while local government offices enforce the licensing requirements. This is how Victoria has structured their operation.”
While legislation is certainly needed, Fraser is highly sceptical of a move to stop pet shops selling puppies. “We have a concern with Victoria trying to shut down the sale of puppies in pet shops,” he says. Nationally it “would only lead to more online sales which is [sic] even harder to mandate and regulate. Shutting down the sale of puppies in pet shops would lead to an increase in puppy farms.”
A major difficulty, in the fight against puppy farms, is that each state and territory legislates individually. Operators can easily move to a less regulated state if their operation is shut down. In addition, puppies are commonly sold to interstate buyers. A dog purchased from a breeder in Perth can be sent to Sydney for less than a couple of hundred dollars—an easy way for the unscrupulous to avoid a proper inspection.
“We’d like to see more national consistency in legislation and if the Federal Government was involved in coordinating the states, that would be a very positive step,” says Goodfellow. “At the national office of the RSPCA, we are advising state governments to look at Victoria so they can propose similar legislation to achieve consistency.”
Fraser is in agreement. “Half of my time is spent travelling around to other states, giving evidence and talking to people to try and get a solution to this problem. If there was a national agreement, it would be much easier to legislate and enforce across the board.”
Though legislation and enforcement are pivotal in the fight against puppy farms, the final piece of the puzzle is raising public awareness. “Educating the public is vitally important,” says Fraser. “We encourage buyers using a retail outlet to view pictures of the parent and, if possible, try and visit the breeder. They should always ensure the puppy is microchipped, vet checked and vaccinated. These things are often missing with online sales.”
The RSPCA encourages people to adopt from shelters and rescue groups, but if buying from a pet store, then people should get the name and contact details of the breeder. “If the store is not willing to give that information then we would suggest not going through with the purchase,” says Goodfellow. “If buying from a breeder, the purchaser should visit the facility where the puppy was bred and inspect the mother of the dog.”
If the public follows these recommendations, it could very well be the final nail in the coffin of puppy farms. They are such dire places of unrelenting misery that they simply can’t operate in the bright light of public scrutiny. They can only exist in the shadows.