An undercover investigation by a charity has found dogs kept in filthy conditions on licensed puppy farms in Scotland, prompting calls for the Scottish Government to improve animal welfare legislation.
Investigators from the animal welfare charity OneKind secretly filmed puppies being kept in small pens in cold outhouses and adult dogs in squalid conditions covered in faeces.
The puppies belonged to licensed breeders who advertise online where traders charge up to £1500 for popular breeds such as Pugs and French Bulldogs.
The covert footage was released with the publication of a new report by OneKind called Scotland’s Puppy Profiteers which focuses on both the illegal trade in puppies and large-scale breeding operations that are legal.
The report reveals there are 97 licensed breeders in Scotland with hundreds of dogs producing puppies for commercial sales including 70 bitches kept on one premises.
The internet trade in dogs is estimated to be worth £13 million annually.
Breeders are licensed by councils and face inspections but OneKind investigators found problems in several premises, with the charity saying the “squalid conditions” would “shock” people.
Conditions for puppies were “little better” than unlicensed puppy farms, OneKind added, while calling on the Scottish Government to review the Pet Animals Act 1951.
The animal welfare charity would like a cap on the numbers of breeding dogs introduced and every commercial sale to be licenced, among other requests for improved legislation.
OneKind Policy Advisor Libby Anderson said: “It’s time to face up to the suffering caused by the toxic combination of enormous demand for pedigree puppies and weak regulation of the trade.
“These conditions mean that profit is being put ahead of welfare, resulting in illegal trafficking and dealing, as well as poor conditions in some legal breeding establishments across Scotland.
People are made of stories, not atoms. Libby Anderson, policy advisor at OneKind.
The report also highlights the problems of puppies trafficked from Eastern Europe by smugglers exploiting the EU Pet Travel Scheme, which allows dogs to enter the UK without quarantine as long as they are health checked and vaccinated against rabies.
The scheme allows five puppies per traveller per journey and smugglers use forged vaccination certificates.
Between Dec 2015 and May 2017 in the UK, 571 puppies were seized and quarantined by the Dogs Trust, most arriving from Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Slovakia.
More than 95 per cent of the puppies were deemed too young to travel and six per cent – 34 – died.
OneKind says that sending a puppy to Western Europe can greatly increase its price, with a French bulldog worth £387 in the Czech Republic selling for around £1586 in Scotland.
A lack of staffing at ports is another problem and the report highlights a number of recent criminal cases in Scotland including that of a puppy farmer who kept dozens of Bulldogs in “appalling conditions” in North Lanarkshire.
Christopher Gorman was found guilty in May of nine offences under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act and one offence under the Pet Animals Act 1951.
The SSPCA had to care for 45 dogs for 18 months.
Commenting on the new report, Scottish SPCA Chief Superintendent Mike Flynn said: “Consumers must play their part and our advice to anyone thinking of taking on a puppy is to firstly consider rehoming a rescue dog.
“If someone is buying a puppy they should insist on seeing the pup’s mother and the environment in which the animal has been raised.”
People are made of stories, not atoms. Mike Flynn, of the SSPCA.
The Scottish Government’s Environment Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, said: “We take animal welfare extremely seriously and are determined to crack down on animal traffickers.
“We are working with charities, enforcement agencies and other UK administrations to take forward the recommendations from the research we have already commissioned on illegal importation and sale from ‘puppy farms’.
“This will include a national campaign to highlight the risk of buying puppies online and rehoming dogs from abroad.
Our recently published Programme for Government outlined our intention to update legislation on breeding and selling of dogs, cats and rabbits, as well as to introduce registration or licensing of animal shelters and rehoming activities.
“This will allow for some of the recommendations regarding proper identification of sellers online to be taken forward.
“We recently launched a public consultation on that matter, which closes on Sunday 4th March. We would encourage all those with an interest in this issue to submit their views.”
Meanwhile, a bid by Christine Grahame, SNP MSP, to introduce tougher legislation will be launched later this month in response to fears over welfare issues.
It could mean that people seeking to buy puppies in Scotland would in future face an extensive questionnaire about their lifestyle and suitability to be a dog owner in order to comply with the law.
If passed by the Scottish Government the new members bill would put an onus in law on both potential buyers and sellers to conduct a series of checks first to ensure that puppies are homed with suitable owners.
Grahame’s proposal aims to tackle puppy farms and unscrupulous dealers and she said the aim was to reduce “unscrupulous dealing and the misery of so many animals and indeed the heartbreak of owners who may purchase a very sick or behaviourally damaged puppy”.
She added: “The thrust is to have a two part Bill – the second introducing in primary legislation an obligation on the prospective owner to complete for want of a better word, a questionnaire.”
The new form, Grahame said, would contain the following questions, among others: Have you seen the puppy with its mother? Have you had a dog before? What is your work /lifestyle? What is your accommodation? If you are currently at home most of the day do you intend to return to work if so what provision will you make for the puppy/dog?
The bill would also increase breeders’ responsibilities by requiring them to check the background of anyone trying to acquire a puppy.
The proposals have been welcomed by OneKind who are calling on the Scottish Government to ensure that Scotland’s dog trade is “robustly regulated”.
The Scottish Government recently published research it commissioned on puppy farms, produced by Northumbria University and the University of Wales.
The report said that a snapshot of the online trade found almost 1500 advertisements of puppies for sale in Scotland from seven websites, over a 12 week period.
The authors concluded there is a need for “wide-scale education on the irresponsible and illegal puppy trade” and suggested that schools could be encouraged to have lessons on the issue.
A version of this story was published by The Sunday Times on 10th December 2017.