I will not take any more interventions for a moment. I want to make some progress—I am only on the second page of my speech—but I will take further interventions later.
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—Dr Offord touched on this. 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.
Puppy farming, from which third party dealers get most of their puppies and kittens, is the mass, commercial production of puppies for profit and is almost always done without thought for the health, welfare or quality of life of the puppy and its parents—I will refer a lot to puppies, but I mean puppies and kittens. I am doing it for brevity. Very often, puppies are separated from their mothers before the puppy is even four weeks old, usually unvaccinated and insufficiently socialised, and sent long distances across the country, and increasingly across the continent, before being sold.
Despite the Dogs Trust survey showing that 95% of the British public say they would never buy from a puppy farmer, it is clear that many thousands of people have done exactly that each year, without realising it. They simply do not know where the third-party dealer gets the stock from. The breeding dogs are often kept in horrific conditions, with insufficient time given to heal between litters. They are rarely screened for genetic conditions so can pass on problems such as the agonising hip dysplasia or heart disease. Indeed, it is hardly in the interest of these volume breeders to produce animals that will live long lives. When the bitch is no longer able to breed, she is either killed or abandoned, and it is only the lucky ones that find themselves in rehoming animal rescue centres.
This issue is not just about animal welfare, important though that is. Failing to tackle the sale of puppies from third-party dealers leaves potential dog owners exposed. They will be unaware of the puppy’s background and unable to see the puppy interacting with its mother. This interaction is vital, as it can help assess the mother’s temperament and what it might indicate about the puppy, including the risk of aggressive behaviour and serious temperament problems in later life, as well as the health ramifications of the environment in which the puppy was bred. The owners are left to foot the bill, with treatments for the often fatal parvovirus, for example, which is found in at least one in five dogs bought from a pet shop, costing up to £3,000 to treat. Ethical breeders that fulfil their responsibilities will have invested money and effort, and want to ensure that all their puppies are sold to appropriate homes.