The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-02454, in the name of Emma Harper, on ending the illegal puppy trade. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament notes the reported concerns about the illegal puppy trade and the view that this business is a blight on animal welfare that must be tackled; understands however that the trade is big business in Scotland, with thousands of dogs being brought into the country each year from Ireland in particular; further understands that the Scottish SPCA and activists in Stranraer have been attempting to disrupt such activity at the port of Cairnryan; believes that the animals involved are bred and kept in horrendous conditions, which can lead to illness and death; understands that, as Christmas approaches, more people might be tempted to purchase a puppy; notes the Scottish SPCA’s recommendation that people should try to rehome a dog in the first instance but that, if someone is intent on buying a puppy, then they should do so from a reputable and licensed breeder and insist on seeing the puppy’s mother and, if possible, father, as well as its living conditions; notes that it also states that puppies should not be purchased in a public place, such as a car park, and that this should set alarm bells ringing if it is suggested by the seller; understands that, while reputable breeders do advertise with it online, the charity generally advises against buying animals via the internet and that searching the seller’s phone number online could reveal whether they deal in multiple litters and breeds, and notes the view that tackling illegal trafficking through raising public awareness of it is one of the primary ways that Scotland can begin to disrupt this cruel trade.
The motion is on ending the puppy trade. Ten per cent of puppies come from licensed breeders; the other 90 per cent are imported or rescued, or come from unlicensed breeders. It is estimated that illegal trafficking could be worth between £100 million and £300 million annually. It is a tax-avoidance, cash economy. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has a special task force addressing the trade.
I have learned that many hundreds, or even thousands, of puppies are trafficked illegally every year through the port of Cairnryan. “Illegally trafficked” means that dogs come into the United Kingdom from Ireland, the European Union and Northern Ireland and then into Scotland without legal documents, including EU pet passports. It means that they come from industrial-sized farms that do not support best animal welfare practices.
I would like to credit the campaigners Eileen Bryant, who is here today, and Raymond Carvill, who established the local group. They have worked closely with the Scottish SPCA investigations unit—with Mark Rafferty and his team, who are also in the gallery today—and with the trading standards staff at Dumfries and Galloway Council. Those people deserve credit for their work so far to detect, deter, disrupt and even detain people who break the law, so that we can put an end to the heinous illegal puppy trade.
I have received advice from many campaigners including puppy love campaigns, the television vet Dr Marc Abraham, who founded the pup aid campaign; and my Westminster colleagues Dr Paul Monaghan MP and Dr Lisa Cameron MP, along with my friend and colleague Richard Arkless MP. I thank them all.
One of the issues that concerns me is the welfare of puppies that are bred in industrial numbers under factory-like conditions. It has been verified that there were as many as 500 bitches in one facility. The Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 states:
“A person commits an offence if the person does not take such steps as are reasonable ... to ensure that the needs of an animal ... are met”,
including its need
“for a suitable environment ... for a suitable diet ... to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns ... to be housed with ... other animals”,
“to be protected from suffering, injury and disease.”
In the case of illegal trafficking, those needs are not being met.
How can a bitch and her pups receive the human contact that they need to be good pets if they are not afforded human contact because they are bred in such massive numbers? In the British Academy of Film and Television Arts award-winning BBC Scotland documentary “The Dog Factory”, investigative reporter Sam Poling exposed the traffickers and the animal welfare issues. Some traffickers purposely starve and dehydrate the puppies because a weak puppy makes less noise, which makes them undetectable. Experts state that there is a very real chance that rabies will enter the United Kingdom through the dog trafficking route. The welfare crimes and abuses that are involved in the puppy trade can be far reaching. They start with the mother: a breeding bitch kept on a crowded puppy farm, overbred and devoid of human contact.
One of the farms that was investigated uses an automated feeding system that is similar to the ones that are used in battery farming. It is a labour-saving device that further reduces the need for human contact. The mothers barked constantly, creating a continuous racket, which is not ideal for whelping or as a birthing environment. One owner applied for a handgun licence for the specific purpose of disposing of the mothers when they were no longer able to produce litters. The bitches are discardable—that is despicable and illegal.
The pups were kept in freezing-cold trailers elsewhere on the farm. They were just weeks old and separated from their mums, and they were frightened and huddled together for warmth. Early separation from their mother can affect their immune system, leaving them susceptible to terminal diseases such as parvovirus, which can kill days after an unsuspecting buyer completes the sale—often for hundreds of pounds. Several new pup owners described veterinary bills of more than £1,000 as they tried to save their brand-new pups, which ultimately died a few days after the purchase. That is heartbreaking for the new owners. If the pups survive, their lack of proper socialisation at an early age will likely cause behavioural issues, making them difficult pets.
On an optimistic note, action is being taken. The Scottish SPCA’s impressive operation delphin is a partnership with the ferry operator Stena Line, Police Scotland and HMRC that has been set up to fight the illegal trade. The fact that those organisations have worked together so effectively is testament to everyone’s commitment to tackle the trafficking and welfare issues that I have highlighted.
Scotland is a country of animal lovers, and part of the task that we face is to make the public aware of the horrors of the trade and to encourage best puppy-purchasing practice. Anyone who is buying a puppy should ensure that they see the dogs in a homely environment with the pup’s mother, and breeders should keep the pup until it is old enough to be rehomed. The buyer should insist on seeing the required sale documents. Legitimate breeders will not have a problem with that. If any excuse is made as to why it is not possible, potential buyers should walk away and contact the Scottish SPCA. No one should ever buy a puppy in a public place such as a car park, and if such an arrangement is suggested by a seller it should set alarm bells ringing.
Options for future Government consideration of changes to the law could include ending third-party sales; allowing purchases directly from licensed breeders only; and compiling a national linked register of approved breeders. We could give local councils the ability to self-fund licensing schemes, and we might consider a minimum human-to-dog ratio in breeding establishments so that adequate human contact and health observation are achieved. The Twitter hashtags #nomumnosale and #wheresmum are designed to help to educate people about the issues.
I spoke with my local canine rescue centre at Glencaple over the weekend, and found that it has 26 dogs available for rehoming, including twa bonnie collies called Sam and Midge.
Presiding Officer, thank you for allowing me to highlight my concerns over animal welfare issues related to the illegal trafficking of puppies. Scotland should lead the way not only in the UK but in the world by addressing some of the issues that I have spoken about. I look forward to the Government’s response and I remind everyone this Christmas of the hashtag #nomumnosale.
I congratulate Emma Harper on securing the debate and I welcome her determination to end this heinous trade, which brings misery to the bitches and puppies in these factories. If members are in any doubt about what life is like for them, they can watch the programme that my colleague mentioned. The reporter who did the investigation took considerable risks, given that criminals are running those factories.
It is somewhat depressing that, 12 years after I introduced my proposal for a member’s bill on the transportation and sale of puppies in 2004, the trade continues. However, that bill proposal was not wasted because, after discussions with Ross Finnie, the then Minister for Environment and Rural Development, regulations were introduced under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 on the licensing of animal dealers of young cats and dogs. Those regulations came into force on 1 November 2008. Among other things, they attempt to regulate possession and sale of a cat or dog under 84 days old. That is a step in the right direction, but we all know that the criminal trade continues.
Today, puppies are sometimes placed with surrogate bitches to trick a purchaser into thinking that they are the mother. Puppies are now sold not just in public places out of the back of vans and through newspaper advertisements but on the internet. The cross-party group on animal welfare heard at its most recent meeting that kittens—just wee moggies to us—can go for hundreds of pounds. The animals are often sick and, as has been mentioned, they have not been socialised. Worse than that, they have been traumatised by their short life to date.
So, what to do? Legislation has its place, but so does the Inland Revenue, as has been mentioned. We should remember that Al Capone was downed by the Internal Revenue Service. The traders involved make big bucks. Police Scotland shares units with Her Majesty’s Customs and Revenue at Gartcosh. I am glad that they are liaising, but I ask for more.
Without demand, there is no production line, which is what these companion animals are to the heartless people involved. I ask the Scottish Government to launch a campaign to highlight the trade and to educate people to research the dealers and never, ever to buy online. People mean well, and once they have seen the sad-eyed puppy or kitten, they are not heartless, although the dealers are. However, people should remember that, for every kitten or puppy that they buy or rescue from those criminal dealers, another is waiting on the production line. Stop the purchase and we stop the production.
I congratulate Emma Harper on securing the debate and I recognise the lead that she has taken on the issue locally since her election to the Parliament in May. Indeed, having seen her Twitter feed over the past few weeks, even my Tory Brexiteer heart has been melted. l understand that a number of colleagues made some new friends in the garden lobby at lunch time.
To look behind all the cute and fluffy advocates of the cause, I, like Emma Harper and many others across Dumfries and Galloway, believe that we cannot afford to ignore the issue and the dark and often barbaric practices that go with it. As the motion rightly stresses, we often see the presence of the illegal trade in puppies on our doorstep. Puppies are being imported on an industrial scale from what can only be described as puppy factories in Ireland.
They are brought in from the port of Cairnryan and one cannot help but feel that recent cases, in which tens of puppies have been seized at a time and which have attracted wide exposure, are only the tip of the iceberg.
How can it be right to exploit such young and vulnerable animals for profit? It makes one feel sick when one hears of puppies as young as four weeks old being removed from their mother, after having been born into appalling conditions, and then being bundled into boxes to be transported without having been fed properly.
Such incidents are a blight on our animal welfare standards and should worry us all. I know that they are a cause of great concern to my constituents. To profit on such a scale from the untold misery and cruelty that those practices cause is disgusting. As today’s briefing from OneKind rightly states:
“The hidden cost of this business is one of animal sickness, distress and suffering, allied with heart ache for families who have to watch their new pet sicken, and die, or grow up to be confused, unsocialised and potentially aggressive”.
We must do more to clamp down on those practices and, building on the work of the Scottish SPCA and other stakeholders at the port, ensure that the message goes out loud and clear that Cairnryan is not an easy route into Scotland. We must also—as Christine Grahame highlighted—do more to educate and inform those who are thinking of buying a dog and encourage them to ensure that they make full investigations and go through established and well-known breeders. Anyone who thinks that a dog is just a dog is clearly mistaken.
It is time for us to give further consideration to legislating on the sale of dogs as pets by third parties and to see what more can be done to protect buyers, as well as animals themselves. As the Dogs Trust highlighted, we also need to look at the abuse of the pet travel scheme and tackle the number of undeclared dogs that enter the UK every day.
It is not just a Dumfries and Galloway problem and it is not just a Scottish problem. I welcome the opportunity to shine a light on the issue and I hope that all parties will reflect on the arguments that are made today and see what we can do to crack down on the illegal puppy trade and the despicable individuals who profit from it.
I thank Emma Harper for giving us the opportunity in her members’ business debate to raise awareness of the cruelty of puppy trafficking and puppy farms, and for her dogged determination in campaigning on those issues.
The debate is timely, as at Christmas some families may be considering buying a dog as a gift. Many folk will spend months planning surprise gifts for their families and loved ones, but something that really should not be given as a surprise or on a whim is a puppy. Gifts are things, and unwanted things can be left or abandoned—not so dogs.
I get it—puppies are adorable and sweet and so cute and cuddly. I love them too, and I confess that there was a split second at our photo call with the gorgeous rescue pups today when I considered making a run for it with one or both of them—I do not think that I was alone in that. However, it is more than cuddles that someone signs up to; it is a 15-year commitment to a new member of the family. That bundle of joy is a living thing that needs a whole load of investment, attention, training, walking and feeding. Of course, the bundle of joy will leave you plenty of not-so-joyous bundles to clean up over the years, not all of which will be outside the home, as fellow dog owners in the chamber will testify.
When someone is ready for a new member of the family, it would be good for them to consider adopting a dog from a rescue centre or, if they are purchasing a puppy, to make sure that it is from a reputable breeder. One simple way in which they can do that is by ensuring that the puppy is seen at home with a healthy mother, which the hashtag #NoMumNoSale has done a great job of promoting.
The people who run cruel puppy farms and traffic the wee animals in horrible conditions thrive on how much we love animals. They also thrive on us not asking questions or looking into where they are coming from, so it is our duty to do just that.
It is heartening that public opinion is largely united on the issue. Just outside my constituency, in East Ayrshire, recently announced plans to create Scotland’s first industrial puppy farm have met with outrage and opposition from concerned locals, the Scottish SPCA, Police Scotland and the Animal Concern advice line.
We need to translate our values and our strong opposition to the illegal farming and trafficking of puppies like commodities into action by continuing to raise awareness of these issues and by encouraging people to think carefully about getting a puppy, and where they get it from.
I thank Emma Harper once again for allowing Parliament to play its part in raising awareness of this important animal welfare issue and I look forward to hearing the other contributions this afternoon and working with colleagues across the chamber in future.
I congratulate Emma Harper on securing this afternoon’s debate and put on record my thanks for the excellent photo opportunity that she organised earlier. I thought that I was queueing for an early new year sale when I went into the garden lobby, but it was not bargains that people were after; it was photos with puppies. I failed to get one, but perhaps I will succeed in future.
Thousands of dogs are brought into Scotland to be sold. They are often bred in substandard conditions and are suffering from severe illnesses when they are sold. Puppies are raised and transported in conditions that foster worms and parasites or even distemper. Some have genetic defects or personality disorders. By the time a customer has purchased a puppy and realised that medical help is needed, all too often, and tragically, it is too late.
Puppy farms are the equivalent of battery farms for chickens, with the corresponding concerns about care, welfare and living conditions. The puppy trade has now reached industrial proportions. The Kennel Club has provided evidence that one in four puppies that are bought in the UK might have come from puppy farms. Puppies are held in mass breeding operations in dark and filthy conditions. They often do not receive sufficient food or water, let alone proper immunisation. Mothers are kept in cramped cages and forced to have litters continually. When puppies are born, their mothers are too weak to care for them and are not given the opportunity to bond. When the mothers get older and are unable to breed, they are often killed or sold to laboratories for experiments. OneKind believes that the conditions that I have identified breach the Scottish Government’s “Code of Practice for the Welfare of Dogs”.
Malnourishment does not end when puppies leave their breeding facilities. Puppies are forced into confined boxes or crates and are dehydrated and left without food for days. Anxiety is common among dogs that are being transported, often for long journeys that span several countries. Such conditions have long-term effects on the puppies involved. If they are not already suffering from an illness when they are sold, they are extremely vulnerable to developing one, having suffered physical and mental trauma.
While the puppies face cruel and inhumane conditions, puppy breeders roll in profits. The SSPCA reports that one gang made £8,000 a week from the sale of sick dogs.
Sadly, puppy trading is on the rise. Following changes to the pet travel scheme in 2012, puppy traders can more easily transport dogs into the UK. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs reported that, in the first year following the changes, there was a 61 per cent increase in the number of dogs entering the UK.
Puppy traders also use technology to make quick sales undetected. The internet allows dealers to reach a broad potential customer base while they remain anonymous. A Kennel Club survey found that almost one in five puppies bought on social media or the internet dies before the age of six months, and twice as many puppies purchased on the internet suffer serious health problems, compared with puppies purchased directly from a breeder.
It is not just the puppies that are at risk. Puppies that are sold through illegal traders are often extremely young and unvaccinated for rabies. The recent rise in rabies among dogs in eastern Europe has the potential to reintroduce the disease here in Scotland.
When an eager future owner searches for a puppy online, there is no way for them to know where it comes from, what conditions it was held in, or whether it is healthy. We are now in the midst of the Christmas season. All over Scotland, children are asking Santa for a canine companion. Puppy purchases and profits from the illegal puppy trade are at an all-time high.
Dogs are near and dear to many of our hearts. As Elizabeth Parker said,
“A dog is not a thing. A thing is replaceable. A dog is not. A thing is disposable. A dog is not. A thing doesn't have a heart. A dog's heart is bigger than any ‘thing’ you can ever own.”
Congratulations again to Emma Harper on her initiative in raising this key issue before Parliament this afternoon.
I, too, congratulate my colleague Emma Harper on bringing this subject to Parliament to raise public awareness about the illegal and inhumane puppy trade that operates in Scotland.
The appearance of our two wee friends in the garden lobby today certainly helped us to do that.
I also want to thank the SSPCA for its continuing campaign to educate and alert the public and for what it does to expose those who breed and trade puppies illegally, often in appalling conditions.
The relevant legislation on this matter goes back to 1973 and was updated in the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999, with corresponding regulations on the licensing of animal dealers being introduced in Scotland in 2008, as Christine Grahame noted.
A glance at the 1999 act shows how legislation can be ignored by unscrupulous people who do not even pretend to masquerade as legitimate dog breeders. Section 8 of the act, which relates to Scotland, says that the keeper of a licensed Scottish rearing establishment is guilty of an offence if he sells to the keeper of a licensed pet shop or a licensed Scottish rearing establishment a dog that, when delivered, is not wearing a collar. That is hardly a deterrent these days, and that illustrates one of the difficulties that we face. The law as it stands has fallen behind what some of these puppy traders will do to make their money.
Although a vet and a council official can be dispatched to inspect premises, as far as I can see there is not a test that is equivalent to, for example, the fit-and-proper-person test that applies to private housing landlords. Although the revised regulations go a wee bit further in some respects, there is still an issue with how we can tackle this issue effectively using legislation.
Part of the solution has to involve increasing public awareness of the criminal side to this trade and educating the public about the serious animal welfare issues that often lie behind it. It is also important not to blame our councils for having to consider dog breeding establishment applications—they have to do that as part of the licensing scheme, as set out in law. They may not welcome or support the applications, but they have to consider them—that is the law. As my colleague Ruth Maguire said, East Ayrshire Council will be considering such an application in my constituency in January, which has attracted a huge number of objections.
Raising awareness of the issues can be as effective, if not more effective, than some aspect of the law that is clearly being flouted. We need to find ways of getting the public to think twice before they consider buying a pup privately, and to look out for the obvious danger signs. Emma Harper suggested a few measures that could help, and perhaps we could also produce some clear dos and don’ts to help the public to be more aware of those danger signs and to help them avoid the dealers whose only interest is profit, not the welfare of the dogs.
Legislation can always be improved, because even the possibility of a custodial sentence does not appear to be sufficient to deter some offenders. Meanwhile, the welfare of the dogs will suffer as a result of the treatment that they receive. In a sense, the legislation helps us to deal with the people who are committing the offences but, at that stage, the damage has already been done to the dogs.
Perhaps we need more random inspections and higher fees, which Emma Harper talked about, and maybe we should be asking for the public’s help more directly in blowing the whistle on these rogue puppy traders via a national helpline.
There is a lot more that needs to be done to tackle the problem of illegal and inhumane puppy farming and trafficking. Emma Harper has done us a great service today in highlighting this issue for the people of Scotland, and I warmly thank her for doing so.
I declare an interest, in that I am a councillor in Stirling, and warmly thank Emma Harper for bringing this debate to Parliament this afternoon.
It is true that the continued presence of the illegal puppy trade in Scotland is a mark of shame on our animal welfare record. The Dogs Trust estimates that there are around 9 million dogs in the UK. However, the Kennel Club registers around 250,000 puppies each year, and rescue organisations rehome around 150,000. There is a gap there. To maintain that number of 9 million dogs would require hundreds of thousands more puppies to be circulated throughout the UK each year. Although some of those puppies might come from legitimate breeders who are not Kennel Club registered, there are clearly criminal breeders who are providing hundreds of thousands of puppies on an industrial scale, preying on our desire to give a home to a vulnerable animal.
I would urge anyone who is considering bringing a dog into their lives this Christmas to go instead through reputable dog shelters and rehoming charities, such as the excellent Scottish Greyhound Sanctuary. I want to make a special mention of Bandeath stray dog shelter near Stirling, which does fantastic work, not just with animals but through its incredible volunteering opportunities for young people. Such facilities are vulnerable to local authority cuts and need our support.
The welfare of animals that are kept in puppy farms has no guarantee. OneKind, among other organisations, argues that conditions on puppy farms would fail to meet the requirements of the welfare codes of practice that were established under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006. For example, one section of the “Code of Practice for the Welfare of Dogs” requires dogs to have
“their own bed, with comfortable bedding” and another requires puppies to have “long periods of rest”. Puppies in large breeding facilities are denied the opportunity to socialise with people, dogs and other animals, which the code describes as
“an essential part of early learning.”
Lack of hygiene, proper diet, routine health measures and veterinary attention can lead to puppies being sold to new owners with a burden of parasites, preventable infectious diseases and painful or chronic inherited conditions, from which many, sadly, never recover. The consequences mean unnecessary animal suffering and heartache for the puppies’ new families.
Despite the code of practice, Dogs Trust and OneKind have highlighted numerous cases in which puppies have been bred, kept and transported in poor conditions, severely impacting their health. Both charities highlight ineffective border controls and enforcement of the pet travel scheme at UK ports as a major contributing cause of puppies being farmed in an inappropriate and negligent way.
It is clear that a number of actions need to be taken. I urge the Scottish Government to work with the Westminster Government to ensure, for example, that there are more stringent checks at UK borders; a central database in which microchip numbers and dates of entry into the UK are logged; a shift of enforcement responsibilities, perhaps away from carriers such as ferry companies and towards Government agencies; and an introduction of further offences and increased penalties.
In 2012, the Scottish Government discussed introducing new laws to crack down on the sale of pets over the internet. A
Scotsman article from the time reported hundreds of cases of puppies and kittens being sold online that turned out be under age, sick or not properly socialised, as well as cases of illegal dog breeds being sold. Since then the Scottish Government has not taken steps to restrict the sale of pets over the internet.
All the animal welfare organisations that are behind today’s debate agree that all pets, but especially dogs, should be bought only after the buyer in person sees them with their mother, to ensure that they are being raised in a healthy and appropriate environment. The continued sale of puppies online means that there is little to no scrutiny of the breeding and living conditions of these animals.
I call on the Scottish Government, 10 years after the passing of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, to step up and commit to ensuring the welfare of our much-loved animals by introducing legislation to restrict the sale of pets online.
Dogs Trust, the SSPCA and others will tell us, quite rightly at this time of year, that a dog is for life and not just for Christmas. In my mind, that is one of the most successful advertising campaigns that there has ever been, because that line is recognisable all over. As a Parliament, we fully endorse that approach, but we need to make sure that a dog’s life is a warm, fun, safe life. All too often a huge percentage of puppies have a terrible start and do not even see their new homes.
The introduction of the pet travel scheme, or PETS, in 2011 saw an end to dogs having to enter quarantine for a period after they came into the country, provided that they have a valid passport and comply with the rules of travel. Unfortunately, it seems that some unscrupulous people have been using the scheme as a cover for the illegal importation of puppies for commercial sale via online classified websites.
In 2014, the Dogs Trust investigation “The Puppy Smuggling Scandal” found that the ages of puppies were falsely advertised, many puppies’ backgrounds were hidden and some were claimed to be UK bred when in fact they had been imported from other countries. Many puppies were in poor condition, and some did not even survive the trip home. Many that did survive had not been socialised—which leads to confidence and trust issues—were infested with worms, and had hearing defects or various other health issues.
During the first few weeks of a puppy’s life, it is vital that they are habituated to all the sights, sounds and smells that they are likely to come into contact with throughout their lives and given the confidence for when they encounter new experiences and places. The way in which puppies are bred and brought up is hugely important to the kind of dog they will grow to become and for their future physical and psychological health. That is especially important in dogs that will come into contact with children.
A few weeks ago, I attended an event that was hosted by David Stewart about the sale of exotic animals online and I was shocked to hear of some of the horrific conditions and lack of animal welfare associated with some sales. It saddens me now to learn, although perhaps I should not be surprised, that that extends to other animals kept as pets, including dogs and cats.
The lack of regulation in the online classified website market means that this situation is increasingly difficult. As Mark Ruskell did, I call for more regulation. Every day, popular UK websites advertise more than 20,000 pets for sale. Many of them are from reputable breeders, but many are not. Advertisements are also placed in the local press; close scrutiny of them shows the same mobile number appearing on different advertisements for different breeds. Potential buyers need to be vigilant.
I fully support all the organisations in their calls for key agencies, including the Scottish and UK Governments, to share information; for the waiting period to travel after rabies vaccinations to be extended from three weeks to three months; for more stringent checks at British borders; and for accessible databases and microchip numbers with date of entry into the country, as Mark Ruskell also said.
Puppies and dogs bring a lot of joy to families all over the country. They are bought in good faith to be a lifetime companion in a safe, loving home. We cannot stand back and do nothing as some people profit by breeding dogs in filthy, rotten conditions, full of disease, with some never seeing the light of day or even playing with a toy.
I thank all the organisations that are campaigning on this issue. I also thank Emma Harper for bringing the debate to the chamber today. I was one of the lucky ones: I did indeed get a cuddle in the garden lobby.
There are still quite a few members who would like to speak in the debate. I am minded to accept a motion without notice to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes.
That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.
Motion agreed to.
I declare an interest as an elected member of Dumfries and Galloway Council.
I thank Emma Harper for securing this important debate. As she said in her opening speech, the illegal puppy trade is a very serious issue at the ferry port of Cairnryan in my constituency. Let us be clear: the illegal trade in puppies is very big business. Dog breeding is not a new business—indeed, my family bred cocker spaniels almost 100 years ago—but the scale and the value have grown hugely since the expansion of the internet.
Across the UK, illegal trading in puppies is worth hundreds of millions of pounds, and some puppy farms can produce £2.5 million-worth of puppies each year. Puppies are sold wholesale: the more people buy, the cheaper they are. The puppies can then be sold on for exorbitant sums, with the dealers pocketing large profits.
Last month, the
Sunday Post revealed the awful details behind the trade, with an investigation into puppy smuggling from Ireland into Scotland. Scots will have been outraged to read that the puppies are bred on an industrial scale like battery chickens, kept in squalor, deliberately starved, as Emma Harper said, to make them more docile for transport and smuggled into Scotland crammed into vans in appalling conditions. Unsuspecting families are led to believe that their new puppy comes from a loving home, but it is all part of an elaborate con.
The SSPCA has been at the forefront of efforts to stop this inhumane trade in Scotland and, along with colleagues across the UK, has made seizures at various ports, including Cairnryan, where 330 puppies have been seized in the last 18 months alone. The SSPCA has also taken part in a pilot scheme that gives it powers to stop and search vehicles that are suspected of smuggling. I am pleased to say that Dumfries and Galloway Council has extended that scheme until next year.
My colleague Maurice Golden recently wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform to ask what discussions the Scottish Government has had with the SSPCA, Police Scotland, Dumfries and Galloway Council and other stakeholders about the illegal trade in puppies. I am pleased to report that the cabinet secretary supports the actions that are being taken by Dumfries and Galloway Council and that Scottish ministers will receive a report on those efforts. I ask the Scottish Government to share that report with all Scottish Parliament members so that we can increase awareness of the issue.
More needs to be done. The puppy smugglers are no amateurs; they are sophisticated and we must be sophisticated in tackling them. There are already a large number of organisations working together on the issue, such as the SSPCA, Police Scotland, HM Revenue and Customs, Stena Line and animal charities such as Dogs Trust and OneKind. They are to be commended for their efforts, but the Scottish Government should explore how that co-operation can be broadened to bring in more organisations that can better share information and work more efficiently together.
We must do more to inform the public, too—certainly a debate such as this helps. Animal charities such as Blue Cross and the Kennel Club provide information on how to buy a puppy from a reputable breeder. I would like to see the Scottish Government explore how it can spread that message further. We need to raise awareness of the puppy trade and ensure that everyone asks the right questions before buying to ensure that only reputable breeders are used. Legislation can do only so much. As with drink-driving, smoking in public or littering, it is not just the threat of prosecution that brings the practice to an end: that happens because it becomes socially unacceptable, and we have to ensure that puppy trafficking becomes just that.
The illegal trade in puppies is driven by one thing, and that is greed. That greed leads to the barbaric treatment of animals that we consider to be man’s best friend. It is time that we repaid that friendship and put a stop to this terrible trade.
I congratulate Emma Harper on securing time in the chamber to debate an issue that has clearly captured the interest of so many colleagues. Particularly at this time of year, it is important to consider the lasting effects that puppy trafficking has on animals, owners and the wider public.
We have all heard—not least today—the familiar slogan, “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas”. That is an important message, but there is much more to it than meets the eye. The illegal puppy trade is estimated to make criminals millions of pounds in profit every year, but the dark underbelly holds a heavy, hidden cost. Puppy farms are not something that I imagine any of us are comfortable thinking about, but they are the basis of much of the illegal trade in puppies. Often, dogs are bred in such horrendous conditions and on such a mass scale that the poor animals go through great distress and, even after their life on the farms, might suffer from debilitating disease and life-threatening illness. When those puppies are sold to innocently unaware owners, they are suffering. The pain and anguish that that causes both the animals and, ultimately, the families involved is heart-breaking to consider, let alone go through. We can and must take steps to avoid that.
As we know, many pups that come into Scotland are smuggled into the country from puppy farms in Europe, by people exploiting measures that were put in place to protect travelling pets. Once in the country, puppies can end up anywhere, with few clues as to their whereabouts. It would be very difficult, of course, to stamp out all illegal trading immediately. However, there is much that can be done to help tackle the current dire situation. Public awareness is hugely important, and I hope that today’s debate—and, indeed, the photo call at lunch time, which sadly I missed because I was writing this speech—will help to alert people to the dangers of puppy farming and buying a dog from an unknown source.
Many are unaware that the illegal puppy trade even exists, although it is often right under their noses. Even the new pup owners are oblivious to the origin of their new pet and certainly do not know the consequences of that until it is too late. Just a few months ago, North Ayrshire Council’s trading standards team issued a warning about illegally trafficked pets after bulldog puppy Oscar was brought over 1,000 miles to Scotland with a fake pet passport and a lack of vaccinations. Luckily, that was one of the few cases of puppy trafficking that have had a happy ending, as the Dogs Trust quarantined and treated Oscar, and rehomed him when it became safe to do so.
Sadly, not many cases of puppy trafficking end so well. Those who are looking to take on a pet should be careful to go to a reputable source, as colleagues have pointed out. Rescue centres are an excellent source, and it is untrue that they house only damaged and difficult beasts. There are many deserving and loving animals in rescue centres that are just waiting for a home to go to. Both cats and dogs of all ages and a wide variety of breeds can be found in rescue centres across Scotland. That situation not only helps the fight against the illegal pet trade, but helps with related issues such as pet overpopulation.
Many kittens, too, suffer terrible health conditions as the result of mass breeding and having been sold at under eight weeks. That leads to the wee kittens being in poor health, underweight and often ill. In North Ayrshire, the Kilwinning-based Cats Protection works hard to combat that.
Giving abandoned or unwanted animals a home is a great thing to do. Reputable rescue centres also offer the security to owners that the pet that they take home is in the best health possible and has had all necessary veterinary checks. The work that rescue centres do through rehoming and targeted neutering is slowly but surely making a difference as we campaign to better regulate the pet trade.
Emma Harper introduced the phrase “best puppy-purchasing practice”. I support that.
I declare an interest as a councillor in Dumfries and Galloway, where I chair the committee that oversees trading standards in the region.
I, too, thank Emma Harper for lodging the motion, which has enabled us to have the debate at such a pertinent time, just before Christmas—as Ruth Maguire said. I am sure that we all remember the Dogs Trust’s iconic slogan, which Gail Ross highlighted: “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas”. Unfortunately, that slogan is as relevant today as it has ever been.
In my region of South Scotland, West Calder Dogs Trust received a staggering 228 phone calls in the weeks following Christmas last year from new owners who no longer wanted their dogs. Sadly, 42 unwanted dogs were handed in to that centre.
The sale of puppies as mere commodities does not give a clear message that a dog is for life, and the increasing demand for so-called designer puppies and rare breeds in particular is contributing to the growth in the illegal trade of puppy trafficking and farming—and increasing it to a scale that has not been seen before.
Emma Harper referred to the excellent BBC documentary “The Dog Factory”, which aired in April 2015. It exposed in particular the disturbing trade in puppies reared on puppy farms in the Republic of Ireland and sold throughout Scotland. Many were transported through the port at Cairnryan in my home region of Dumfries and Galloway. The documentary showed puppies being intensively farmed in cramped conditions in Ireland. Some premises held in excess of 600 breeding bitches. Those dogs were not shown an ounce of compassion and were rarely handled. In some cases, food was provided through automated feeding systems, which meant that they had little or no socialisation.
The Scottish SPCA special investigations unit was central to exposing the appalling trade that was featured in that documentary. It developed operation Delphin, which is a special joint operation involving a range of agencies, including Police Scotland, HMRC, Stena Line, the Scottish, Royal, Ulster, Irish and Dublin SPCAs, and Dumfries and Galloway Council. There is no doubt that joint working across agencies is key to helping to tackle the illicit puppy trade.
An example of that is the unique pilot project that is taking place in Dumfries and Galloway, which Finlay Carson highlighted. The local council has provided five Scottish SPCA special investigations inspectors with the designated authorisation that is required to exercise enforcement powers under the Trade in Animals and Related Products Regulations 2011. Since the pilot began in January, seven people stopped at Cairnryan have been found to be in possession of illicit puppies, resulting in 140 puppies being recovered and rehomed.
There has also been a gradual but significant reduction in the number of adverts in Scotland for high-demand cross-bred puppies, and the Scottish SPCA has noticed a reduction in the number of complaints from people who found that they had bought sick puppies. It is clear that, in the run-up to Christmas, the fear is that that number might increase again. It was therefore a pleasure to chair the recent council meeting in which it was agreed to extend the period of authorisation to allow Scottish SPCA inspectors to continue their excellent work in disrupting the puppy trade at Cairnryan.
Although a lot of excellent work is taking place in our local communities across a range of agencies, the Parliament and the Government need to do more to support that work. It is widely recognised that the current animal welfare legislation is out of date. We badly need a major overhaul of that legislation to, for example, introduce modern offences that take into account large-scale puppy farming, online trading and designer breeding as well as a fit-person check to improve the current situation.
Sharing intelligence has been crucial to the operations at Cairnryan that I have described. We need to explore how the sharing of intelligence could be made easier. Perhaps that could be done by introducing a national database of licensed breeders.
Consumer protection legislation could also be used to take action against the puppy sellers, if they could be identified. Consumers could seek redress. Indeed, trading standards Scotland is currently running an operation to gather intelligence on puppy sellers.
Although the welfare of puppies is the paramount concern of all of us, we should recognise that it is devastating for people who have bought a puppy—in some cases, they will have parted with over £1,000 for it—only for that puppy tragically to become ill and die within a week or so. The best way to avoid such tragedies is to encourage people to rehome a dog, or to buy from a reputable licensed breeder, and to see the puppy’s mother, its father and its living conditions before they buy.
If we demonise those consumers who have suffered by making the mistake of buying from an illicit breeder, they might not seek the advice of or report the offences to trading standards officers, due to being embarrassed. Those families who have reported their experience to trading standards could provide a home to a rescue pup. Putting those families in touch with the Scottish SPCA could be another positive example of the collaborative work that is already taking place in Dumfries and Galloway and across Scotland to tackle the illicit puppy trade. That work needs to continue until we see an end to this despicable and unacceptable trade.
I, too, commend Emma Harper for securing the motion and for bringing the plight of the animals concerned into the spotlight. By making life as difficult as possible for puppy traffickers and illegal breeders, we can provide the best start in life to beloved pets.
The import of puppies from Ireland and elsewhere into Scotland should be of major concern to us all. It is hard to overstate the size of such operations. Thousands of dogs are illegally trafficked to Scotland every year in a multimillion-pound trade that is inextricably linked to animal cruelty and distress. Puppy farmers and traffickers are high-volume breeders who have little regard for the welfare of their animals. Their intent is profit.
Put simply, the animals have had the worst possible start in life. Although the breeding of dogs is regulated under UK law, additional provisions in Scotland regulate the sale of dogs, requiring anyone selling more than two young dogs under 84 days old to hold the appropriate licence.
Local authorities issue dog-breeding licences after the inspection of premises. They impose standards and conditions relating to the suitability of accommodation, nutrition and exercise, infection and disease control, the treatment of bitches and the sale of puppies. Those standards are enforced by a vet or by another professional. None of those standards applies to illegally trafficked puppies, which are therefore not offered the same protections. Far from getting a bargain, new owners are often left with an unhealthy, sickly dog, which may have problems with socialisation and aggression.
The trade has a ripple effect, which reaches far beyond the families who buy a dog. Puppies that are brought into the UK from elsewhere in the EU should have pet passports, microchips and rabies vaccinations. As trafficked puppies have none of those, legislation that was set up to defend the UK from rabies is being breached.
In economic terms, the contribution of the trade to the economy is minimal. It almost certainly places a greater burden on the taxpayer, due to tax evasion. The trade must be costing the UK millions of pounds each year in undeclared income. For example, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals found one group in Manchester that was earning £35,000 per week. That is the equivalent of £1.8 million of undeclared income every year. Another dealer was earning £200,000 a year trafficking puppies from Ireland into Scotland. It is big business, the scale of which may shock many people. The RSPCA estimates that, last year, more than 93,000 dogs were imported from the EU to the UK. That represents a massive increase from figures that were reported just five years ago, when fewer than 2,000 puppies were imported.
This cruel trade has skyrocketed, and it has built networks of organised crime. The Dogs Trust believes that the puppy trafficking trade may be replacing the illegal trade in cigarettes. A recent report from a cross-party group in the European Parliament estimates that pet trafficking is now the third most profitable illegal trade in the EU, after narcotics and weapons. The bottom line is that, as the law stands, the penalties for puppy trafficking are low and the profits are high. The trade is an attractive proposition for unscrupulous operators and criminal gangs.
I recognise the actions that a range of agencies, in particular the Scottish SPCA, have taken to tackle puppy trafficking through Scottish ports, especially Cairnryan. I reiterate the message from the Scottish SPCA this Christmas: the only responsible way to purchase a puppy is via a reputable dealer, after visiting their premises to see the puppies with their mothers. Alternatively, as the motion suggests, people should perhaps consider rehoming a dog by contacting their nearest animal rehoming centre.
I would like to talk about the dog in the photo that I am holding up. Her name is Dieta. The photo shows me and Dieta on the couch. She was a giant Schnauzer and she had been a breeding bitch, although we are not entirely sure where, and we are not entirely sure how many litters she had. We think that it was three in three years, but it could have been more. By the time my friend rescued Dieta, she had had a pretty hard life. She is the dog that I want to speak about today.
We know that Dieta was kept in a pen with a concrete floor in an outdoor yard. When she was rescued and she came into our lives via my friend Donald, who became her new owner, she was unfit, unwell, absolutely filthy and terrified. Her journey from the north of England, where she was found, to Aberdeenshire must have been full of so many new things for Dieta, because she had never been let out, exercised or shown any affection. She had never really had much human contact. All of a sudden, there she was with someone who was going to look after her. She was in a car for the first time and she was travelling to goodness knows where.
As I said, she had never been exercised, and she was in really quite a bad condition in terms of her muscles and her make-up. She was overweight, and that was one of the issues that Donald had to deal with. We think that, in effect, Dieta had been a puppy-making machine and she had outlived her usefulness and her short shelf life as a breeding bitch. I was struck by what Emma Harper had to say about the licensing of a gun at one of the farms. It really gave me pause for thought as it made me think about what Dieta’s fate might have been if she had not been rescued once she had outlived her usefulness.
During the first couple of months of Dieta’s new life with Donald, he had to go and spend some time in the States and she came to live with me for three weeks. It was at the early stages of her rehabilitation. In effect, I had to teach Dieta how to be a dog and how to be a pet, because she did not know. She did not know how to run. It was the weirdest thing. I have dogs of my own and they hallirackit all over the place. We took Dieta out with us and, in effect, my dogs taught her to run. I ran with her, too. I remember uploading a video to show my friend in the States that we had managed to get Dieta to run, and he was absolutely delighted. It was a major step for her.
She did not know how to play with other dogs or with humans and she did not know how to respond to affection. She was not aggressive at all; in fact, it was quite the opposite: she was incredibly docile. When she got any attention or affection, it was almost like she had a question mark over her head as to what it was. The photo that I am holding up now shows the point at which Dieta started to respond to affection. Beyond that point, she was a limpet—she would not leave my side at all. When Donald came home, he latched on to her again, and she became an excellent pet.
We think that Dieta came not from an illegal breeder but from a licensed breeder. I wanted to mention today that there is bad practice going on in dog breeding all over, whether people are licensed or not. I urge prospective dog owners to think beyond the puppy that they want. When they look at a puppy, they should think about where it came from, the mother that it came from, what has happened to that mother, what conditions she was in and how she was treated.
I do not want to make anyone cry here, but I finish by saying that Dieta lived to a ripe old age of 10 years and 10 months, and she died last month. When Emma Harper told me about this debate, I decided that I would speak about Dieta because behind every puppy there could be a mother like Dieta who needs rescuing from a terrible situation.
I will try to get through as much as I can in my seven minutes, Presiding Officer.
I congratulate Emma Harper on securing the debate and for organising the puppy photo call in the garden lobby today. Puppies at Christmas—that suggests that Emma Harper is learning fast how to do this job.
I also thank everyone who contributed to the debate. I am grateful to have heard members’ concerns and views, many of which I share. I will not try to mention everyone who has spoken—that would be almost impossible. However, a number of issues were raised by more than one person.
Concerns were expressed about human contact and automated feeding. The issue will be considered in our overall review of animal welfare, which is on-going. Oliver Mundell raised the possibility of ending third-party sales; that will also be part of the review, which includes the breeding and sale of animals. That is a big hint to everyone who is interested in the matter to look out for the review and perhaps get their submissions in.
On local councils self-funding through licensing, local authorities have powers in that regard under the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973. We perhaps need to encourage authorities to consider what they can do in respect of the 1973 act.
A number of members talked about internet sales. Regulating the internet, including the advertising of animals for sale, is difficult and is reserved to the UK Government. The Scottish Government will ensure that the UK Government has our full support in tackling illegal and inappropriate sales. We have endorsed the pet advertising advisory group minimum standards and we agree that those—or higher—standards should be used.
Members talked about the abuse of the pet travel scheme. A difficulty is that pet movements within the UK are exempted from the scheme and Northern Ireland is in the UK, so movements between Northern Ireland and Scotland are not caught by the scheme. As members know, breeding often takes place in another jurisdiction entirely, over which we have no direct control. That creates a number of difficulties for us.
Members talked about a fit-and-proper-person test. We will take all such matters into consideration in the context of our review.
For obvious and understandable reasons, there was a focus on the situation in Dumfries and Galloway and particularly Cairnryan. The illegal puppy trade is a blight across the whole of Scotland, but we know that Cairnryan is a main entry port for unfortunate puppies. Their illegal importation is a matter that is very close to the hearts of many people in Dumfries and Galloway and those who represent them.
One of my veterinary advisers has been attending meetings of the local group, which comprises residents, the local authority, transport companies and the SSPCA. The adviser keeps me informed of the situation on the ground, and that will continue to be the case. It was encouraging that the most recent meeting included representatives from some of the Northern Irish enforcement authorities, who are co-operating in sharing intelligence and are increasing checks to detect and stop illegal movements before puppies leave Northern Ireland.
I particularly praise the way in which the local authority and the SSPCA have collaborated over the past year to intercept and turn back illegal consignments at Cairnryan. I also praise the SSPCA for its continuing vital work to gather evidence for the prosecution of people who are involved in the illegal selling of puppies after importation.
Many members, quite rightly, talked about the demand for puppies. There is already a great deal of information available to people who want to buy a puppy. The code of practice for the welfare of dogs, which the Scottish Parliament approved in 2010, advises potential purchasers on all aspects that should be considered when obtaining a puppy and on how to purchase one from a reputable source. The code of practice also provides details of some of the best-known other sources of advice on the purchase of a puppy.
Buyers are advised to see the puppy with its parents, where possible. It is sad that many people act on impulse without seeking information beforehand and will take delivery of an animal in the most unlikely places, perhaps wrongly believing that there is such a thing as a cut-price pup. By doing that, they—unwittingly, at best—create a market that can be exploited by puppy traffickers.
There is also a tendency for well-meaning buyers to want to rescue puppies that might be sick or come from dubious sellers. Unfortunately, that simply fuels the trade. If rescue is the intent, there are plenty of well-known establishments whose premises can be visited and who will have brought puppies and dogs back to health before trying to rehome them. Such establishments should be the first port of call for anyone who wants to take on a rescue dog.
I advise the cabinet secretary that Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home does not rehome over Christmas and new year. People can reserve animals but it does not like animals being rehomed over that period because of the activities within a household. I just wanted to put that on the record.
That is a well-made point.
The Scottish Government is well aware of public concerns about the breeding and sale of puppies and indeed cats, rabbits and exotic pets. These concerns have been raised in meetings with stakeholders as part of our review of pet welfare legislation. Again, I invite people to submit their views to that review if they have a particular interest.
However, developing new legislation is not the only answer and to investigate this further, the Scottish Government commissioned some social science research from Northumbria University to consider the demand side of the trade in illegal puppies. We should receive the research by next April.
The research should provide valuable insights into the attitudes of potential buyers and how to influence them. By identifying the most effective ways to communicate messages about responsible buying, the Scottish Government and others could ideally use these to achieve a significant reduction in the illegal trade. I hope that Christine Grahame and others who raised that particular issue welcome that research.
The research will also offer an estimate of the actual number of legal and illegal sales of puppies in the UK and might help to provide enforcement agencies with information that could help to disrupt illegal trade.
Presiding Officer, I have just about one more minute of my speech left to go, if I may go over time.
What I want to say in closing is that we should be under no illusions. The movement of dogs between Northern Ireland and Scotland will not be easy to disrupt. There are no animal health restrictions on the free movement of pet animals between these two parts of the UK, just as there are no restrictions on movements of dogs to Scotland from England or Wales, although poor welfare conditions in transit can of course be dealt with when they are detected. That sounds gloomier than I hope the position actually is, or will become.
When the research concludes, we should be better placed to influence the illegal trade in puppies, whether imported or native born, by working to reduce the size of the market and the opportunities for sellers. We will also continue to work closely with the pet advertising advisory group and support its efforts in this area, which seem to be having some effect in encouraging more responsible advertising of animals.
We are also consulting with local authorities and animal welfare organisations, as I have already indicated.
However, the key message remains that the illegal trade in puppies from Ireland and elsewhere could be seriously disrupted if every single puppy buyer first considers rehoming an animal from a centre in Scotland, or, if they must buy a puppy, insists that they always see it first with its mother at the breeder’s premises, and, of course, remember—especially at this time of year—that a dog is for life, not just for Christmas.