So just how do we define a puppy farmer, at least in the context of Kennel Club registration? We’ve all seen the horrific videos of hell holes where puppies are born in conditions that would not be tolerated if the livestock in question were sheep or pigs, but which appear to be acceptable to the welfare authorities for dogs and I think we would all agree that it would be outrageous if the KC were found to be accepting registrations from breeders who keep their animals in such conditions.
Maybe it’s the terminology that is wrong. Anyone who has spent a spare hour or so trawling the internet for puppies, particularly of the more popular breeds, will have come across some very impressive websites, with lovely photographs of dogs playing in fields, clean modern kennels or claims that ‘all our pups are raised in the house’ – at first glance exactly what would be expected from a good breeder. But there are clues: not many hobby breeders accept credit cards in payment for puppies – that’s usually an indicator that the financial aspect of breeding is most important.
The real giveaway to anyone suspicious that a breeder has profit first on their list of priorities is the lack of any information on health issues. These are the kennels that concern responsible people. They may present a very respectable image – indeed their dogs may be kept immaculately, but because they put profit ahead of everything they will not spend money on health testing if it is not required in order to make use of the KC registration system that places the seal of respectability on their puppies. These people are worse than puppy farmers, because they hoodwink buyers into thinking that everything is as it should be.
KC representatives, from the chairman down, continually assert that the KC does not register puppies from puppy farm sources. If we are looking merely at the really bad places, those that abuse their bitches by breeding every season until the bitch is too worn out to produce more pups then replacing her with a younger, more fertile animal, the statement is probably accurate. But there is more to it than that. At a time when conscientious breeders are health testing for an ever-increasing number of conditions and when breed clubs are continually raising money for research into canine disease it should not come as a surprise that ethical breeders resent being lumped in together with those who do not do any health testing, and whose sole motive is financial gain, with absolutely no thought for the furtherance and improvement of that particular breed.
In his much applauded speech to the KC AGM, Michael Parkinson said: "The Kennel Club Breed Records Supplements show that over a 12-month period a single breeder registered 15 litters of Cocker Spaniels totalling 108 puppies. It also shows that the dams of these litters have so far in their lifetime currently whelped a total of 230 puppies. In a breed that has simple DNA tests for PRA and the fatal disease FN, the KC’s Health Test Results Finder shows that none of the sires or dams of these 15 litters have been health tested.
By continuing to register puppies whose parents have not been health tested the KC is endorsing this breeder by virtue of allowing these puppies to carry the KC registered branding. This is not only devaluing the hard work, dedication and commitment of responsible breeders, but it also shows complete hypocrisy in performing vet checks at shows. The KC justify these vet checks for reasons of only wanting to see healthy dogs but at the same time continue to register the puppies of irresponsible breeders that could go blind or even worse develop potentially fatal diseases. These vet checks are attacking those who in the main are doing the very best for their breeds. How can it be right to attack the responsible breeders, while the KC continue to register the potentially unhealthy and unethical efforts of the puppy farmers.”
This statement puts the facts, and the logical conclusions drawn from them very clearly. The KC is apparently perfectly happy to allow the registration of puppies bred in large numbers by a breeder who does not participate in the simple health tests deemed to be necessary for the breed. Whether this person has a breeder’s licence is totally irrelevant; even if the puppies are reared in exemplary conditions it matters not a jot. The important point is simply that there is absolutely no guarantee that these puppies will be able to live a long and healthy life, yet the KC is endorsing them by dint of a KC registration document.
Doubtless, the answer will be that buyers should go to an Assured Breeder, who will have carried out all the required tests before breeding. Well, maybe it’s because the KC publicity machine has not got the message across very well, but to the general public one KC registration is the same as another. Those who can make volume breeding into a virtue and can ignore the concept that rigorous health testing and the evaluation of breeding stock by means of conformation shows or working activities are necessary precursors to breeding are more than capable of hoodwinking a first time puppy buyer into believing that KC registration is a mark of superior quality.
The KC seems focused on volume breeders – not necessarily the best indicator of quality or otherwise. There is apparently only one breeder who registers over 50 litters a year, and that is Guide Dogs; less than ten who register 25 or more litters, and there are around 600 more who fall into the category of needing a licence because they breed five or more litters per year. So are these people all puppy farmers? No, of course they aren’t – in fact their number probably includes some of the most respected breeders in the country. In reality, the pet breeder, with just one bitch, who has no idea of health testing and uses the dog down the street to sire a litter every year, is more likely to be producing unhealthy puppies than most of the volume breeders.