The caged puppy crisis
Man’s best friend is facing a crisis as puppy farming rapidly becomes one of Australia’s most pressing animal welfare problems. Christie Sinclair reports.
Thousands of puppies across the country are caged in appalling conditions for breeding as the puppy farming industry places profit over the welfare of dogs. And despite the thousands of lost, unwanted and abandoned dogs that are killed in animal shelters each year the practice of puppy farming continues to contribute to this oversupply of dogs.
But the escalation of this problem lies in a misinformed public and a lack of adequate legislation.
The RSPCA characterises puppy farming as the “large- scale commercial production of puppies for sale”. Often hundreds of dogs live in the same area, are confined to tiny cages and receive little social interaction, exercise and basic care. The dogs are forced to live in damp and unsanitary conditions, often in their own faeces and urine.
Dr. Camilla Babington of Mount Martha Veterinary Clinic in Victoria reports that there are a number of health as well as moral issues associated with puppy farming.
“Do we want dogs to be in a farmed situation? When people think about dogs they think about pets, rather than animals that are kept in a similar way to that in which pigs are kept. They are not treated as a companion animal rather treated as a production animal. That’s a moral issue,” she says.
And to maximise profit female dogs are often forced to produce litter after litter, resulting in major health issues. Once they reach the end of breeding life they are often euthanised rather than being re-homed, devoid of a chance to live a normal life.
Babington also points out that puppies need a key socialisation period within which they adequately socialise with both humans and other dogs. When they are kept confined to cages, the puppies often out on a lot of this essential socialisation that can ultimately lead to behavioural problems later in life.
It seems the only way to ensure all puppies are raised in an ethical environment is to help place pressure on the government to stop the operation of puppy factories.
Animal welfare groups have long been campaigning for the regulation and abolishment of puppy farming. Passionate people like president of Oscar’s Law Debra Tranter and director of Australian Teens Against Animal Cruelty(ATAAC) Elizabeth Anile and their teams work diligently to bring the issue into the media and the public spotlight.
The Oscar’s Law campaign is about legislative reform and lobbying politicians to abolish factory farming. The campaign was named in memory of one of a number of severely neglected dogs rescued from a puppy farm in Central Victoria in January 2010.
To raise public awareness and support the Oscar’s Law campaign, a Puppy Farm Awareness Day Rally was held on Sunday 19 September at Parliament House in Melbourne to further highlight the need for changes to be implemented. Tranter says the rally was a great success and she has since been overwhelmed with support.
“We’ve been inundated with people offering their support. In a lot of those emails, people are saying they didn’t even know that this actually happened in Australia. They thought it was a problem that only happened overseas. We have succeeded in raising so much public awareness about what goes on behind pet shop windows. That was a clear goal of the campaign, to educate and raise public awareness.”
It is clear the rally was a success, with The Oscar’s Law website recently upgraded from a Victorian initiative to a national campaign to accommodate the tremendous amount of support from people wanting to lobby in their own states.
ATAAC, the first Australian animal protection group operated entirely by teenagers, use social mediums such as their website, Facebook and Twitter pages to help educate fans on the truth about puppy farms and how people can help in the abolishment of such institutions.
“ATAAC is proud to be one of the official supporters of the rally and of the campaign itself,” says Anile, its director.
“We help to promote any demonstrations or campaigns the people behind Oscar’s Law have come up with in an effort to get as many young Australians to attend as we can. It’s so important for the youth of Australia to be made aware of these issues so that they too can in turn make informed decisions which will hopefully create change.”
Anile says the first step in raising awareness is to reach out to consumers who are unaware of the concept of puppy factories and the cruelty masked by inviting pet shop windows.
“We need to keep this issue in the media so that the Victorian Government can see that Victorians want these cruel institutions closed down. We also urge people to continue writing letters to the Premier and to never, ever buy from pet shops – always adopt.”
In 1994, a mandatory code of practice against puppy farming came into existence although its application has never been enforced. It is problematic as the RSPCA (the body responsible for the prevention of cruelty to animals) was frozen out of the legislation, giving them virtually no powers under the act at all. If persons are caught violating the code of practice there are financial penalties or they can have their permit revoked, however Tranter said that has never been the case.
“The only person who can enforce the laws on a puppy farm is a local council officer. Most of the time they don’t understand the legislation, they haven’t got time and it’s just not a priority. It’s basically a self-regulated industry,” says Tranter.
Driving this industry are the inviting displays in pet shop windows that encourage impulsive buying behaviours and successfully mask the cruelty behind the puppy farming industry. A key problem when buying a puppy from a pet shop is that it is difficult to identify where the animal has been sourced.
“In terms of helping people avoid buying from a puppy farm, my advice would be that they are best not to buy from a pet shop. It is pretty rare that at a pet shop you can guarantee what the origin of the their stock was. The best you can say is if it is pure-bred and it’s got its papers then it has probably has come from a breeder,” says Babington.
The best way worried consumers can ensure they are not supporting puppy farms is to adopt a puppy or dog from a pound, vet or animal shelter. The benefit is that the animal’s life is saved, it is checked by vets, de-sexed, vaccinated and costs a fraction of the price a breeder or pet shop would charge.
“It comes back to whether people fall in love with some cute fluffy thing that they see in a pet shop window or do they want to give an animal a home that would otherwise be put to sleep,” said Babington.