Animal welfare staff had counselling over ‘deplorable’ puppy farms, committee told

Better registration system needed to stop unscrupulous dog seller, Dogs Trust says

‘When [breeders] can hide behind this lack of traceability, they can breed dogs in utterly deplorable conditions,’ Becky Bristow, executive director  said.Photograph: Crispin Rodwell

‘When [breeders] can hide behind this lack of traceability, they can breed dogs in utterly deplorable conditions,’ Becky Bristow, executive director said.Photograph: Crispin Rodwell

 

Animal welfare workers had to receive counselling because they were so distressed by the terrible condition of dogs were at an illegal puppy farm, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Dogs Trust Ireland’s executive director, Becky Bristow, said a better dog registration system is needed to stop unscrupulous dog sellers making a profit from animal cruelty.

“When [breeders] can hide behind this lack of traceability, they can breed dogs in utterly deplorable conditions,” Ms Bristow told the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food, and the Marine on Tuesday.

“We got 37 dogs in recently from an illegal puppy farm. We had to get a counsellor in, because the staff were so traumatised from what they saw in these breeding females.”

Ms Bristow said last year 125,000 dogs were microchipped in Ireland. With an an average price of €1500 to purchase a dog, the industry is worth €187 million, she said. “That’s predominantly in cash transactions, not traceable.”

Ms Bristow said this industry was huge, and buyers have no idea of the dog’s health, and oftentimes discover later on the dog was not the breed they thought it was, she said.

She said a more joined-up system is needed, and databases on microchips, dog licences and reputable dog breeders need to be linked.

Currently in Ireland, there are four databases for checking dog’s microchips. Local authorities also have a list of dog breeding establishments, but many of these lists are not online, she said.

Since the introduction of new legislation this year, the Department of Agriculture has a register of some 500 sellers and suppliers of pet animals on its website , the committee heard. However, these databases are not yet linked, she said.

Ms Bristow said the technology is there, and a system similar to the one used for car registrations could be used for dogs. Ms Bristow said while the Department’s new legislation in relation to the selling of dogs online was strong, it needed to be enforced and underpinned by traceability and verifiability. The Department may need additional funding to achieve this, she said.

“It’s not acceptable to be relying on the public or the private online selling platforms to do all the work.”

Dog theft has also become a serious issue, but Ms Bristow said that many advertisements for the sale of dogs and puppies and are either taken down quickly, or the pets are sold before any investigation can take place.

This is why a linked-in and automated system is needed, so buyers can ensure the dogs are coming from a safe breeder, and unscrupulous sellers can be prevented from advertising these dogs in the first place, she said.

“Yesterday we looked at one website, there were 48 pages of ads, over 400 ads for dogs for sale, average price €1500, that’s €3 million worth on one site on one day.”

She also said in the UK, there was talk of banning cash sales of pets. “Cash sales allow criminality. It hides poor welfare. If there was an awareness campaign... members of the public might start to ask themselves, why am I being asked for cash?”

The number of dogs being put down was also discussed at the committee, and overall, there has been a major improvement. The committee heard that 15 years ago, in local authority pounds, there was 26,000 dogs put to sleep in one year while in 2019, it was less than 400. Ms Bristow said this was mainly due to more neutering and re-homing.

However, Ms Bristow warned that Dogs Trust research has uncovered that putting down dogs has now fallen to private vets, and the issue is hard to quantify.

“People have obtained puppies from low-welfare breeders, they are not socialised, they have health issues, and unfortunately at quite a young age they have to be put to sleep for behaviour and difficult veterinary issues.”

She also said there was a lack of data on what happens to breeding females when they are beyond reproductive age.