16 years ago I walked into a pet shop in Modbury Triangle South Australia & met the big love of my life. A tiny golden Labrador we called Mutley. I didn't know about puppy farming or the role that pet shops played in this cruel trade.
Mutley came from a notorious puppy farm in Ballarat Victoria that has since been closed down due to it's cruelty to dogs. And he was sick, very sick for his entire life. The only joints that worked were his shoulders, the rest were malformed, they caused him pain & created mobility challenges. Three days before his first birthday we were told to end his life. More than £80,000, operations, drug therapies & tlc later he bounced & wagged his way to his 14th birthday.
I will never regret that day because of the life I shared with my boy, but I am ashamed of what I was fuelling.
Credit Oscar's Law
This video from Oscar's Law perfectly illustrates what I did & what my actions in that pet shop that day was supporting. And if somebody had shown it to me all those years ago I would never have walked into that shop, never have bought my beloved boy & would never have been part of the problem.
For 25 years or more courageous, dedicated people have been battling to stamp out this vile trade & while significant progress has been made puppy farming prevails.
Great minds have diligently & skilfully formed & shaped campaigns, implementing them with dexterity & careful thought. Laying them before the general public, politicians, media, celebrity, law & order & yet puppy farming continues.
Because of US
Our needs, wants & desires are at the very heart of puppy farming, an industry like any other, it's success relies on demand.
Pandemic Puppies are a good example of our lack of consideration.
Lockdown was a worrying time for all of us, stripped of all but the most basic of liberties, separated from our friends & family & at the mercy of a pandemic that wiped out millions of lives.
Getting a puppy seemed like a great idea. Companionship was a big driver & I am sure those puppies carried many people through an emotionally difficult time. Being confined to the house many people saw this as an opportunity to get a puppy settled in to family life before they went back to work. And for others, getting a puppy was just a thing, something their friends & family were doing so they thought they would get one too.
There was a whopping 3.2 million pets bought during lockdown with a Kennel Club report stating that 1 in 4 purchases were impulse buys.
How was the surge in demand met?
An acquaintance who takes in ex breeding dogs to rescue told me that the puppy farmers in their area were saying that they would be breeding from anything with a pulse.
Waiting lists started to pop up & prices began climbing. A Dog's Trust report showed that from March 2020 to October 2020 the price for a Chow Chow increased by 134%.
The price hike did not go unnoticed by criminals who were quick to cash in on the demand. Smugglers exploited weaker checks at ports due to lockdown to smuggle pups in to the country. I was very shocked to hear just how many had arrived in the UK from The Republic Of Ireland. The Dog's Trust told us during an interview with them that smugglers had taken to smuggling females heavily pregnant in addition to the puppies themselves.
And thieves saw an opportunity also with an increase in pet theft across the country. Theft with malice increased as people were threatened with weapons & assaulted to give over their dog for resale or breeding. Fraud was rife as criminals impersonated animal welfare organisations. And organised crime gangs got involved targeting kennels & similar establishments where they could maximise the profit they earned for each job they did by stealing multiples of dogs. Storing the stolen dogs alongside drugs & guns.
And there was more trouble to come.
Pandemic puppies came into our lockdown world. A small world of confinement. No visitors, quiet streets & roads, closed shops & schools with only the most basic of services operational. For these puppies this life was their normal.
And then lockdown began to ease, we could go out, venture a little further, go back to work & school & very suddenly the puppies lives were turned upside down.
Cluey owners had socialised pups during lockdown either because they had lived with dogs before or were listening to the advice of dog trainers everywhere who helped them to socilaise the pups in a new way. These pups have done well.
But many haven't. Many of these puppies have very suddenly been exposed to a host of experiences that quite frankly must overwhelm them. They don't know what it is like to be left alone, to sit in a socially distanced but still busy vet practice, many may not have ever been in contact with another dog. I watched my own pre-pandemic pup ( she came two months before lockdown) become quite fearful when she saw a drone flying over our garden & I was thankful that she being upset by the extraordinary & not the ordinary.
Under socialised pups will more often than not present us with behaviours we do not want. Separation anxiety, reactivity, aggression, excessive barking to name just a few. And for some dog guardians dealing with these very fixable very doable behaviours is just too much.
So the dog has to go. Many guardians have taken to internet selling sites in order to recoup some of the cash that they invested in their pandemic puppy. I cannot stress enough how dangerous this is. You have absolutely no idea who you are giving your dog over to or what that person's motivation is for wanting your dog. And you are also passing on your problem to somebody else. Instead of fixing your pandemic puppies fearfulness you are creating a situation which will make your dog even more fearful & therefore exacerbating the behaviour.
If you feel you absolutely must rehome your puppy please contact a reputable rescue. They have the skills to deal with socialisation issues & the ability to find a suitable home for your dog. If you do not want to rehome your dog but are struggling with a socialisation issue please reach out to a trainer. If you don't have the money to pay for help please contact a rescue. People who rescue dogs are good people who will have your dogs best interests at heart & they will do their best to help you.
If you just need a friendly ear we are here for you & can be contacted by email here
There is another knock on effect from our desire to buy puppies that people are talking about & one that worries me & I am far from alone in this.
The import of sickly, young pups from back yard breeders & puppy farms absolutely must be stopped. It's an abhorrent practice. The pups that are smuggled are horribly abused taken away from mum when they are just a few weeks old often travelling huge distances in dirty cramped conditions without adequate food & water. Unvaccinated these conditions provide the ideal breeding ground for disease. The pups succumb to life threatening & often fatal illnesses such as the dreaded parvo.
Campaigners have admirably stepped up again to raise awareness & attempt to find a solution to this disgusting practice. One of the proposed ways to curb the smuggling is to make it unlawful for a puppy less than six months of age to travel into the country. This makes total sense because a vet will be able to tell the age of imported puppies by studying the dogs teeth. And also puppies of six months or more have lost that cuteness that we all like, so it will make them less attractive to potential guardians.
But what about the rescue puppies which are imported into the UK. Will they be exempt? I have been assured by campaigners that they will & I very much hope this is the case.
My dog came to me from overseas when she was 8 months old, I didn't want her travelling before that. But I was lucky, she was living in her rescuers flat with other puppies, was lead trained, toilet trained, had been in the car & had even been out shopping & knew basic commands. She arrived with good social skills & a reasonable knowledge of the rattle & hum of the human world. The transition between rescue dog & dog with a home & family was a smooth one taken in her stride with ease.
Now imagine if she had stayed in kennels until she was six months old. Imagine if she didn't know what a hoover was, or a car, or the telly. Imagine if all she knew was a kennel, a walk & cuddles with a volunteer & visits to the vets. I can't imagine that the transition to her new home would be as smooth as it was. I believe that the minimum age requirement is currently sixteen weeks, will those additional weeks make that much difference? I would say for a dog stuck in a kennel environment it most certainly will.
And what effect will that have on the rescue organisation?
It's extra weeks of expenses & kennel space tied up which means turning away other dogs in need of assistance.
If rescue dogs are not made exempt as promised it will be a disaster.
To be clear I am not talking about pedigree rescue dogs who quite obviously are puppy farmed dogs being pushed under the radar by their abusers. I am talking about mongrels, the good old fashioned mutts, the Heinz 57's. The dogs who lost their families under cruel regimes decades ago. The puppies who are born by the side of the road & watch as the traffic picks off their siblings one by one. Or succumb to disease or harassment by humans. The puppies who freeze to death or die of starvation. The puppies nobody cares about.
I believe that we have a duty to do our bit to help. To spay & neuter to reduce the stray population. To vaccinate to prevent the transmission of disease including rabies. To support in country outreach. To support in country free roaming sanctuary & to open a percentage of our homes & our hearts to those puppies.
Banning puppies under six months of age from entering the country to tackle puppy smuggling & not exempting rescue puppies will not only fix one problem by creating another it's absolutely stone cold heartless. Any decision maker who can deliberately throw a vulnerable group of dogs under the bus without a second glance should not be in a position to make decisions. And with the best intentions from grassroots campaigners once issues move out of their hands & in to those of politicians they have little to no control over matters.
Who would have thought that our needs, wants & desires would have so many negative consequences for puppies.
Is it wrong for us to want a puppy?
Of course not!
But I think we need to be a bit smarter. We must stop wanting everything NOW. We need to slow down, do our homework, research everything, question everything. Can we really afford a dog? What if the dog becomes unwell, do we have a few hundred pounds or even thousands of pounds spare for vet bills? Can we afford pet insurance? Is our lifestyle compatible with a dogs needs? Can we afford a trainer or behaviourist? Do we have leisure time to spend with our dog? Maybe a dog isn't the right pet for us after all!
Would you adopt an older dog from a shelter, that would be best.
Whatever we do we need to learn from our pandemic puppies.
Our wants, needs & desires fuel the breeding & sustain the puppy farms
Our wants, needs & desires created pandemic puppies & all the problems that have stemmed from that. The demand that drove the prices up, the spike in thefts & smuggling because of the price hike & a potential ban on homes for vulnerable overseas rescue mongrel puppies.
I say we stop buying puppies for a while, if we don't buy, they won't breed.