Thank you for contacting me about Canine Welfare. On this page, you will see my responses to common enquiries regarding the welfare of dogs and puppies. It will be updated on an intermittent basis.
I entirely share concerns for thousands of animals born each year to irresponsible breeders, their first weeks can be spent in cramped and squalid conditions without the care and attention they need. I am therefore glad to say that the Government is cracking down on the worst offenders by strengthening the licensing system and giving councils the power they need to take action. I trust I will be able to give you some peace of mind over the strengthening of licensing.
The Government has banned (scheduled to come into force on 6th April 2020) the sale of puppies or kittens at too young an age, which in both cases will be less than eight weeks. It will also require anyone breeding and selling three or more litters of puppies a year to apply for a formal licence. Any irresponsible breeders who break these rules face an unlimited fine and/or up to six months in prison.
It has also introduced a single 'animal activities licence' covering pet shops, boarding houses and riding stables, to improve the process and make enforcement easier. Pet shops will need to give customers written information about the animals they buy - with details of the five welfare needs owners must meet around environment - diet, behaviour, housing and freedom from pain.
It is already the case that anyone in the business of breeding dogs or running a pet shop must be licenced by their local council. But with more and more pet sales now taking place on the internet, this market should be subject to the same strict licensing criteria as other breeders and pet shops. That is why the Government legislated to ensure anyone trading commercially in pets online will have to be licensed.
For dogs bred by so called "hobby breeders", who are not in business but do breed occasionally, there is also the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal or fail to provide for its welfare. Anyone breaking this law could face an unlimited fine and/or 51 weeks imprisonment.
Ministers are serious about improving welfare in breeding establishments and at the point of sale.
Under existing law, anyone in the business of breeding dogs must be licenced and must demonstrate that their animals are being adequately cared for. They must not breed a bitch more than once every 12 months, nor sell a puppy younger than 8 weeks old to the general public. Dogs bred by "hobby breeders", who are not in business but do breed occasionally, are still protected by the Animal Welfare Act 2006. This makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal, or fail to provide for its welfare.
It is crucial to recognise that we cannot expect the Government to defeat this problem by itself. Individually, we need to take care not to fuel demand for exploitative breeding by providing a market for poorly bred puppies.
Therefore I fully endorse the Government's advice to those looking to purchase a puppy only to consider buying from a reputable breeder, and to consult guides published by charities working with dogs. I am pleased to see that the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home is offering such advice as part of their campaign; also available is the RSPCA's legally binding puppy contract, which should ensure prospective owners have all the relevant information about their new pet.
I am grateful to the Dogs Trust for highlighting the issue. Responsibility for stopping illegal movement begins in the country where puppies are born, so in response to a previous report the Chief Veterinary Officer wrote to the authorities in the highlighted countries to remind them of their duties.
An EU pet travel regulation introduced in 2014 brought further measures to strengthen enforcement. The new-style passport is harder to forge, new rules apply when more than five animals are moved together and all EU countries must carry out compliance checks. A 12-week minimum age for rabies vaccination assists compliance checking and restricts the movement of very young animals. As the UK withdraws from the EU, there will be opportunities to re-evaluate the rules.
I am assured that there is a robust checking regime for pets travelling here. Every pet travelling with its owner on an approved route is checked for compliance with the travel regime and the UK Border Force carries out a wide range of checks on vehicles arriving in the UK.
It is important to recognise that we cannot expect the Government to defeat this problem by itself. As individuals, we need to take care not to fuel demand for these animals by providing a market for the unscrupulous people who exploit them. Government advice is very clear: people who buy a pet are responsible for knowing where it comes from and, if it is found to have been imported illegally, will be held responsible for any necessary quarantine and veterinary fees.