The rising demand for dogs in the UK has caused a darker side effect, namely the growth of puppy farms or unregistered “backyard” breeders, which can have a heartbreaking impact on potential owners.
According to a survey by the Pet Food Manufacturers Association, the UK dog population has increased by almost 50% from 9.5 million dogs to 12.5 million since late 2019.
This is mainly due to the fact that many people are adopting or buying dogs to keep them company during the Covid-19 pandemic, but this surge also correlates with greater demand for puppies, which enable puppy farms to thrive.
As the PDSA published on its website: “On a puppy farm, several dogs are continuously bred and the puppies are sold. They are kept in poor conditions because the “breeders” do not care about their health and happiness.
“They are very different from serious breeders. Typically, reputable breeders only breed one or two different breeds at a time and should put the health of their pups and mothers above a quick profit.
“Puppy farms typically have far more breeds available than these, and puppy farm dogs can be unwell, causing potential distress for the ignorant owners who take them in.”
The RSPCA said it received 4,357 calls in 2018 alerting them of potential cases in England, up from 890 in 2008, a number that has grown steadily since then.
Several measures have been taken to combat the crisis, but they are by no means final.
Lucy’s law, which was passed in April 2020, meant banning puppy sales to third parties for up to six months to crack down on puppy farms and other untrustworthy sellers.
This law means that puppies must be sold by the breeder from the place where they were born from their mother.
However, this has not stopped breeders from capitalizing on this market boom by continuing their illegal activities and making hopeful dog owners buy puppies that have been unethically and even cruelly bred, which can lead to health complications later on.
TeamDogs has put together a guide on how to spot a potential unethical breeder and what to do if you think you’ve come across one.
How do I recognize a puppy farm
It’s not always obvious that you might be buying a dog from a puppy farm. So, at every stage of your puppy’s purchase, look out for some key signs.
First, where are the puppies advertised? If the ad goes to social media, where will it be shared? For example, if the ad is posted to a regulated group with moderators who have not removed the post, it might be considered more legitimate than if it was shared on a personal page or social media “story”.
In general, however, any dogs advertised on social media that are not from a trusted breeder or rescue center are more likely to come from breeders with no background or experience.
Also, see how often the breeder publishes ads for puppies – if they appear to be selling litters on a regular basis and of many different breeds, this could also be a bad sign.
There are a number of checks that you should do when visiting the seller
If they want to meet in a public place rather than at home or at a venue, this can be a big red flag.
Also, when the house is dirty, when there are lots of other outbuildings, or when areas are cordoned off with no explanation.
Be mindful of the sounds of many other dogs.
However, sellers can sometimes rent out rooms to sell their pups, so check to see if it looks like dogs live there and if the animals are comfortable around them.
The RSPCA has practical advice on asking the right questions to ask a breeder, including whether or not their ID matches the ad and show their local licensing license if they are breeding and selling pets as a business.
You should also be able to provide real papers / certificates for puppy vaccinations, microchips – which are required by law – deworming and, if necessary, results for health tests.
A good breeder should also ask you questions: if he cares about the welfare of his animals, he should hope that he will bring them to the right place.
You should also be happy to use The Puppy Contract if both of you are okay with it. This is a free toolkit developed by the AWP and RSPCA that helps protect both breeders and buyers.
Finally, the puppies themselves.
The dog’s health is of the utmost importance, so make sure they have a wet but no runny nose, clear, bright eyes, and a healthy coat, and that they are not in visible distress.
Sellers should also be able to respond to any concerns you have about the puppy’s health and provide appropriate vaccination records if necessary.
Can you see the puppy with its mother and with the rest of the litter? A common tactic used by puppy farm breeders is to separate the puppy from its mother too early and only show one puppy at a time.
It should also be the same litter that you saw in the ads.
The best advice is if it feels wrong, it probably is.
What should I do if I think it is a puppy farm?
If you think the seller is unethical or runs a puppy farm, the first thing you should do is get away, as difficult as that can be.
As tempting as it is to rescue a dog from a possible situation, it is far better to leave the breeder and leave it to the authorities in charge.
You can report the ad on the website where it is to have it removed and report any license violations to your local government.
If you believe that the dogs’ animal welfare needs are not being met, you should report this directly to the RSPCA. However, if you witness animal abuse directly, you can call the police to resolve the matter.
As the Kennel Club sums up, “All puppies are cute, and unless the puppy itself is unclean or has any visible health, the dog’s appearance alone does not tell what conditions it was bred or bred under would become like when they grow up.
“Before you spend any money, make sure you are absolutely convinced that you are dealing with a responsible breeder.
“Make sure you ask all the questions you need to be sure of the breeder’s trustworthiness.”