2008. A few words about pet shops. Not all pet shops are on the high
street, many are private residential houses operating with a pet shop license issued by the local authority.
Potential puppy buyers are duped into thinking because they see pups in a family home pups have been home
bred, nothing could be further from the truth! Pups are sourced from puppy farms in England, Ireland
Scotland, Wales and Eastern Europe. Don't be fooled into parting with your money for an ill bred puppy.
Murphy is a Cocker Spaniel. He was born in Ireland, but he doesn't live there. Soon after he was weaned,
he was taken away from his mother, put in a cage and packed onto a lorry with many other puppies. They were
driven to the port of Dublin and put on a ferry across the Irish Sea to Liverpool. From there he was taken
to a warehouse near Manchester where his cage was unloaded and he stayed there for several days. Then some
men came and put him in the back of a van, along with five of his fellow pups, and drove all of them to a
pet shop in London.
Six hours later he was in a pen with a price ticket on the front of it, but he wasn’t feeling very well.
Murphy’s luck began to change when a lady saw him in his pen and felt sorry for him because he looked so
small and poorly. She thought he needed medical attention and she bought him and took him straight to a
vet. He was by then 11 weeks old but still knew nothing of play, or cuddles and kindness from humans. The
vet suspected pneumonia and admitted Murphy to the animal hospital.
For the next 2 days, he was on a drip and intravenous antibiotics, having been confirmed as suffering
from pneumonia. He remained on medication at home for another 3 weeks, but made only slow progress, so went
back to the vet for a chest x-ray and to have fluid drained from his lungs. Finally, after laboratory
analysis of the lung fluid indicated a need for different antibiotics, Murphy started on the road to
recovery. Please do not buy a pup because you feel sorry for it, if you think its in need of veterinary
treatment call RSPCA immediately. If you look carefully at pups in pet shops you will see most are
underweight, stressed and timid. Is it any wonder after being transported from Wales or Ireland their
little bodies begin to suffer. They have most likely lacked food and water on the long trip and been
exposed to infection and bacteria from other litters. Murphy was lucky but cost his owner many hundreds
of pounds, can you afford huge vet bills?
The public face of puppy farming
No responsible dog breeder will sell their puppies to a third party dealer or pet shop. So where does
that beguiling puppy you see displayed in a cage, on the internet, or in the classified ads section of your
local newspaper with just a mobile number, come from? It will probably have been born and spent the first
few weeks of its life in a dark, squalid prison, surrounded by faeces and urine. In other words, on a
Puppy is likely to have been deprived of a proper diet and clean water and have had no interaction with
humans or space to play with its siblings. After all, as far as the person breeding it is concerned, it is
a cash crop, so why waste time and money doing more than is absolutely necessary to keep it alive until it
is sold on?
And puppy may well also have been removed from its mother well before the time that good practice dictates,
so that it can start making money for those in the supply chain as early as possible. As for its mother,
she will stay in solitary confinement regularly producing new litters until she is too old or too ill to
earn any more cash for the farm owner. Then she will either be dumped on a rescue shelter,or disposed of by the
Believe it or not, many of these establishments which flout the laws for animal welfare in England,
Scotland and Wales, not to mention human decency, are operating with the tacit blessing of those with the
power to stop them.
What does this mean for a puppy and its future owner?
The breeder may sell pup direct to a retail vendor, either a pet shop or trader, or more likely, as part
of a job lot to a wholesale dealer. It may then pass through several other hands before finally being
offered to the public. In either case, it is likely to have travelled hundreds of miles from its place of
birth to the point of sale. If it’s lucky, it will have been transported for at least the first part of
its journey on the UK mainland in accordance with the Welfare of Animals (Transport) (England) Order 2006,
which lays down minimum standards and is mirrored in Wales and Scotland. Of course there are many in this
trade who have scant regard for the law
Whether pups initial journey was in a properly equipped vehicle or in the back of an old van, it will
probably have been in the company of many others of its kind. Even if it was free of disease at the outset,
the odds are against it when it reaches its final destination. The stress of its situation and weakened
immune system, due to a lack of proper care from birth, will make it susceptible to a range of infections.
Gastro enteritis, various intestinal complaints, kennel cough and pneumonia frequently occur in puppies
sold through these channels, although not always obvious at the time of purchase. Parvo virus, although
fortunately less common, still appears far too often in these animals. Sadly, however serious these
diseases, and all of them could be fatal, or how costly veterinary treatment might be, they may still be
only a foretaste of the heartbreak and expense yet to come.
Take a look at the Your Stories page
for just a few examples of the hereditary conditions that can arise as a result of totally irresponsible
and callous breeding practices.
Of course no-one can guarantee that breed specific health issues won’t ever surface in even a well
planned litter. The difference though, is that a responsible breeder will do everything they can to
minimise the possibility by only selecting well researched and health screened dogs for breeding.
A puppy farmer on the other hand will throw any suitable bitch and dog together, regardless of whether
either or both already show signs of hereditary conditions or deformities, and to increase the problem,
whether they are closely related.
By now you might be thinking it can’t get any worse……but oh yes it can. It is well established that the
period between 6 and 12 to 14 weeks is the most important development period in a puppy’s life. What it
learns in that time, both good and bad, can have a lasting effect for the rest of its life. And how has
it spent most of it? Isolated from interaction with caring humans, lacking any stimulation or exposure to
play, frequently competing for food and forced to relieve itself in its cramped living space.
Not very surprising then that it’s common for puppies reaching their eventual homes through pet shops
and traders to exhibit behavioural problems such as possessiveness over food and toys, difficulty with
house training and in the worst case, aggression.
Aren’t there rules for this sort of thing?
To understand how this trade developed, we have to go back to the
middle of the last century and beyond.
There was no internet, no mobile phone network, less than 50% of households had a landline phone and car
ownership for all was decades away.
Pet shops were strictly local businesses and most of them sold small animals. Neutering of dogs was
not the common practice it is today and many people found themselves with puppies, either by design or
accident. If someone had difficulty selling all of the puppies themselves, or didn’t want the bother of
selling an unwanted litter, the local pet shop would be happy to take them off their hands. There was
concern about the conditions animals were often kept in while they were awaiting sale in pet shops and
the Parliament of the day introduced the Pet Animals Act 1951. This specified that accommodation should be
adequate, as should food and drink, that mammals should not be sold at too early an age, reasonable steps
should be taken to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and that appropriate steps would be taken in
Anyone running a business selling animals to the public required a
licence from their local authority and it was the duty of the authority to set specific conditions which
it felt were necessary to satisfy the broad requirements of the Act. A set of model conditions was issued
by the Local Government Association as a baseline guide for licensors in 1992 and updated in 1998.
Individual authorities could of course add other conditions where they felt this is appropriate.
By the 1970s, the breeding of dogs had grown from its small scale
local roots and commercial breeders were appearing as businesses supplying puppies for profit. To ensure
reasonable welfare standards,the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973 was introduced. That required that anyone keeping more than two breeding
bitches for the purpose of breeding should also be licensed by their local authority, which had the power
to inspect premises to ensure compliance with the Act. Further legislation relating to commercial dog
breeders was introduced in 1991 and 1999 and the Animal Welfare Act 2006 for England and Wales and its
equivalent in Scotland, sets out broader requirements for anyone responsible for animals in any capacity.
New licensing requirements for dealers in young cats and dogs supplying stock to pet shops or retail
traders were introduced in Scotland in 2009.
Why is there still a problem then?
For starters, the law covering the regular sale of puppies to the public by anyone other than their
breeder is now 60 years old. Apart from a few very minor amendments over the years, its basic requirements
are still as they were in 1951 and take no account of current best welfare practice or the retail methods
used in the 21st century.
And what about the supply channels?
Well, regulations for breeders have been improved and there are moves in Wales, the UK’s centre for
puppy farms, to tighten them much further. Hopefully England and Scotland will follow suit and this is
certainly a step in the right direction. Unfortunately it won’t be enough. If local authorities properly
use the powers we hope they will be given, it will help to improve welfare standards and practices among
breeders. But only for those breeders identified as requiring a licence and even then, only if authorities
monitor premises and enforce the regulations a lot more effectively than they have in the past. We have
substantial evidence of a lack of consistency by local authorities in monitoring and enforcing even basic
health and welfare standards at UK breeders which have been granted a licence.
On top of that, many puppies sold in this country through pet shops and dealers originate from breeders
in Ireland, beyond British control, and of course there are still numerous breeders in the UK operating
illegally without a licence. The Pet Animals Act 1951 places no restriction on where a vendor acquires
stock for sale. In 2009, councillors at Swindon Borough Council came to the conclusion that it is
impossible to be certain any puppy sourced from a puppy farm, would meet the requirements of the current
Act in terms of minimum age or freedom from infectious diseases. As a result, they introduced additional
licence conditions relating to the sale of puppies which would effectively rule out a puppy farmer as a
source of supply. Among others, these include requirements that stock can only be acquired direct from the
breeder, that breeders must be licensed or complying with a recognised code of conduct, that results of
health tests relevant to the breed are supplied and that the breeder must be no further than 45 miles
from the seller.
Other forward thinking authorities attempted to follow the same path, but after challenges from existing
retailers and their trade association, the Pet Care Trust, on the grounds that these conditions exceeded
the requirements of existing legislation, watered them down rather than face a judicial review. A law which
can be used to prevent the highest possible welfare standards is a bad law
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