Friday, 5 September 2014

Where's mum? Banning the sale of puppies and kittens in pet shops

Yesterday, the House of Commons debated a ban on the sale of puppies and kittens in pet shops. This has been driven by the campaign group Pup Aid which was founded to highlight the problems of puppy farming in the UK with the ultimate goal of getting it stamped out all together.

Pup Aid recently launched a campaign to heighten awareness among would-be puppy buyers, to remind them always to ask "Where's mum?" before buying a pup. This attempts to address the gap between the fact that over 95% of the population in the UK (according to a Dog's Trust survey) say they would never buy from a puppy farmer, but many thousands of people do just that every year, purely by not knowing that that cute pup in the pet shop, advertised on the internet or sold by a neighbour has actually been separated from its mum and shipped to the point of sale.

As a part of this campaign,Pup Aid created an e-petition, which collected over 110,000 signatures, to ask the Government to ban the sale of puppies and kittens unless the baby animal's mother was present. As the petition got over the 100,000 signatures marker, it got its debate in the House of Commons yesterday. (Details in Hansard - the document of report for all Parliamentary business). The discussion focused particularly on a very specific topic, namely that of the sale of puppies and kittens in pet shops. While this is only one part of the problem, as recognised by Robert Flello, MP (taken from his speech to the Commons):
"We consider ourselves a nation of animal lovers, where a dog is a man’s best friend and a pet cat or dog is part of the family, but every day puppies and kittens are bought from pet shops and garden centres, become ill and all too frequently die as a result of the supply chain from irresponsible breeder to pet shop. I cannot think that a nation of animal lovers would allow this to continue. Are we at risk of becoming a nation of disposable pets?
Those behind today’s campaign want to end the cruel and unnecessary practice of puppy farming. We want to work with the Government to find a solution that improves the welfare of puppies and kittens as well as protecting the animals’ mothers and, importantly, their prospective owners. Tackling the supply side is difficult, but we can tackle the demand side by looking at where the animals are sold [...]. There are three main routes: the internet, the private dealer and retail outlets. In time, we need to address the first two, which will be hard, but there is already strong agreement on tackling the third route—high street premises and pet shops, garden centres and dog supermarkets, such as the one in Salford. Puppies and kittens are housed and sold without their mothers, and the presence of such retail outlets encourages impulsive buying, irresponsible breeding and the commoditisation of animals, as well as too often leaving prospective owners with the burden of the life-threatening health and behavioural problems associated with pet shop puppies. The Government could have an immediate effect, without excessive enforcement costs, by banning the sale of puppies and kittens on high street premises."
it is a part of the problem that could be dealt with quickly and easily (at least in theory - I get that the Government is kind of constrained by what laws have gone before so as not to be creating overlapping or contradictory legislation, but a bit of secondary amendment wouldn't hurt, surely?)

Unfortunately, the debate followed a well trodden path in terms of outcome. There was full agreement that "Something Must Be Done". But only 2% or thereabouts of pet shops are actually licensed to sell dogs and cats on the premises - around 70 across the country. And even for this small number, it turns out that legislation already exists at a local level to prevent the sale of puppies and kittens within local authority regions were it so desired, though it sounded from the statement that the Minister for DEFRA, George Eustice, made that most local authorities were unaware of this. The Minister undertook during the debate that his department would send out a clarifying note to ensure that local authorities knew they could decide on pet shop licence conditions on a case by case basis.

My personal view on this coincides with that of Robert Flello, in that while the legislation in place to determine the licence conditions of particular petshops (the Pet Animals Act 1951) exists, it doesn't cover some of the things that we now recognise as essential to the health of a baby animal, including its emotional welfare. So while DEFRA may be in a position to send out guidance on such matters as socialisation requirements, these are not covered in the Act and therefore aren't enforceable. Neither is the problem of young pups and kittens being taken from their mothers far too early and potentially being transported long distances to be sold - a key part of the puppy farming business model.

However, in the light of the debate, all is not total doom and gloom. While the House wasn't perhaps as decisive as might have been ideal, they did recognise that there is progress to be made, and called upon the Government to begin to take action. Baby steps, but baby steps in the right direction:
"[T]his House has considered the e-petition relating to the sale of young puppies and kittens; notes that puppies produced at large-scale commercial breeding establishments, known as puppy farms, and irresponsibly-bred kittens are separated from their mothers too early and often transported long distances, and as a result often suffer serious life-threatening problems including impaired immune systems, poor socialisation, infectious diseases and shorter life spans; calls on the Government to review existing legislation to ensure that it is consistent with its own guidance that prospective owners should always see the puppy or kitten with its mother, and to ban the sale of puppies and kittens from retail centres such as pet shops, garden centres or puppy supermarkets; further notes the support of the Blue Cross, Dog Rescue Federation, Dogs Advisory Council, Dogs Trust, The Kennel Club, RSPCA and others for such a ban; and further calls on the Government and welfare organisations to work together to raise awareness among the public about choosing a dog responsibly from only ethical breeders or by adoption from legitimate rescue organisations, and to consider further steps to end the cruel practice of irresponsible and unethical breeding of puppies and kittens in the UK."


  1. Raising awareness of the public is a good step. If people are educated about the situation, they won't buy animals from puppy and kitten mills and these places will be forced to close. Supply and demand.

    1. Agree entirely. The difficulty as I see it, is that most people don't know that they are supporting puppy mills in their buying, so anything that can be done to raise the average level of awareness in the population has to be a good thing. From that perspective, the best thing this debate did was make the BBC news, which is really widely read. I would like to have seen something decisive done off the back of the debate, though, if if just to reassure me that the politicians involved were genuinely looking at adapting legislation and bringing in new legislation to make it harder for puppy farms to be set up. Some of the changes that are going through (e.g. not being able to import pups under 15 weeks old) will help, but there can always be more done to make it harder to keep operations like this in business.

  2. I agree with the concept of supply and demand mentioned above. I never take my business to pet store retailers selling puppies or kittens, and have taken the pledge of not doing so right here:

    1. Oh wow. This is awesome (pawesome?) I'll share the link on to the guys at pupaid and see if they are game to do something similar. I'd love it to go wider than pet stores in the UK - only 2% of pet stores have licences to sell pups and kittens, but puppy farming is still a huge problem, primarily due to people buying off the internet or at the market. Getting people to sign up to always seeing the baby with its mum (rescues excepted) would be a really good way to raise awareness in the general population.

  3. Great article! Thank you for helping to raise awareness about this. I am so against puppy mills! They make my blood boil. Peace!