The future welfare of puppies by Sheila Atter
I recently bred a litter of puppies, and the first one went to his new home this week. The new owner is a lady who has had the breed before – not as a breeder or exhibitor, simply owning one Cesky Terrier as a pet. Charlie died last year in his 15th year, and she now feels ready to have another one. I nearly wrote ‘to replace him’, but of course we know that a much-loved dog can never be replaced, as he will remain in our heart forever. Young Chico is, however, hopefully going to give her just as many happy memories over the coming months and years and will, I know, be loved and cherished.
Charlie came from a conscientious breeder, who had done all the ‘right things’ when selling him to his new owner, but times have changed in the intervening 15 years and I think Jean was just a little taken aback at the amount of paperwork that comes with a new puppy nowadays. Fifteen years ago Charlie went with his KC registration paper, a handwritten pedigree, an insurance cover note, a diet sheet and a bag of dog food, and a receipt that also detailed the worming regime that had been followed.
Chico had all these things (although the pedigree was a printed KC one instead), but in addition, his smart purple Assured Breeder folder contained a contract of sale, advice on health, exercise, training, grooming, socialisation – even a copy of the new KC Puppy Plan booklet. A potted history of the development of the breed, an application form to join the breed club and a copy of its code of ethics were all added to the folder, along with copies of the heart, eye and patella tests for both parents – and vouchers for more dog food to hopefully ensure that Chico stays on a quality diet.
Into the box that contained the folder and the bag of food I added some Vetbed that smelt of home and his brothers and sisters, his favourite toy and a brand new one as a going away present, wet wipes in case of an accident on the journey home and even a bottle of frozen goat’s milk, to ensure that he could have his bedtime drink as usual. Jean had already searched my website page by page, and had photographs of both parents, several grandparents and many other relatives, and I had posted photographs of the litter from the day they were born on Facebook. We’d also sent many emails back and forth so knew each other pretty well by the time she came to collect Chico.
Of course, I’m not alone in doing all this for ‘my’ puppies – many others do just as much, if not more – and I’m sure I’m not alone in getting great satisfaction from the idea that the new owners will have every assistance possible in raising their puppy to become a much-loved, valued and well-mannered member of his new family.
In all the discussions about puppy farming, this is perhaps one aspect that hasn’t been given enough prominence. A puppy farmer hands over the puppy with little or no paperwork and collects the money. There are no information sheets, no little extras, no promise of back up and no insistence that if things go wrong there will still be a place by the fireside for the pup, however old he is by then, to return to. There is no request for photographs and for keeping in touch. In fact there is nothing except the basic transaction: here’s your pup, where’s my money? Whether it’s a volume breeder in the back of beyond with hundreds of bitches producing litters until they are worn out, or a nice semi-detached in a leafy suburban road with one pet bitch having one litter if they are offering nothing other than a puppy for sale – they are puppy farmers.
It’s all very well for APGAW (Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare) and all the other bodies that are concerned with the future regulation of breeding dogs to fuss about whether it should be three or five litters that are the cut off point before a licence is needed; they are not taking into consideration the future welfare of the puppies if they do not insist that all those who sell puppies should be obliged to offer quality support to the new owners.
Assuming that it is felt necessary to place a limit on the number of litters that can be bred before a licence is required, there has to be some standardised system of inspection before such licences are granted. One local authority close to where I live does not even bother to visit breeding establishments, merely phoning up to remind the owner that the licence fee is due. We all know that over the years standards can slip, buildings that were once well-cared for can become run down and in need of repair, staff come and go, and the replacements may not be as conscientious as the original workers. A few more bitches might be added to the establishment, and a few more litters bred but with nobody visiting who is to know?
While I would never suggest that it is right that welfare standards should be secondary to financial considerations, we all know that this is in fact the case, and local authorities already have a difficult time balancing their budgets, so it is highly likely that if more people were to be brought into the licensing net an inspection regime would be even more difficult to implement. Indeed it is highly likely, as suggested in the KC response to APGAW, that in order to be seen to be doing something, councils would home in on hobby breeders who would be a soft target, still ignoring those who really ought to be inspected and in some cases shut down.
Reading the latest offering from APGAW it does seem as though they are still living in a parallel universe to the KC, and there does not appear to be the remotest chance of the two even getting close to each other, let alone agreeing. I still think that it was a grave mistake on the part of the KC not to become involved with the decision making process. Just sitting outside and commenting on each new report does not have the same impact – however well argued a case is put – as being there and hammering out each resolution point by point.
In the long term we may live to regret the KC’s air of superiority, as we could well have decisions thrust upon us whether we like them or not. Arguing now, for example, that the five-litter trigger for licensing should be reduced to three does not come over to the general public as a responsible move – it just looks as though the KC supports puppy farmers. Similarly, suggesting that the recommendation that dogs should be health checked before being shown would be unworkable is nonsense – it might well be expensive for the exhibitor, and some might argue it would be a fairly pointless exercise, but unworkable? On the contrary, it would be very simple to put such a system into place.