Britain risks losing its standing as a nation of dog lovers thanks to a new and appalling trend in “throwaway” puppies, according to charities.
TV vet, author and animal welfare campaigner Marc Abraham said impulse buying of dogs, fuelled by unscrupulous internet dealers and bad practices in puppy farming, is leading to a rapid rise in cruelty cases while legislation to protect animals is “a total mess”.
“We’re getting worse as a nation of supposed animal lovers. Puppies are so easy to get hold of that they have become disposable. You can just dump them when you have had enough, and rescue centres up and down the country are bursting at the seams. We have seen a massive increase in demand for whatever breed is fashionable, whether it’s a husky from Twilight or Game of Thrones, or Lady Gaga and YouTubers like DanTDM with their French bulldogs and pugs. They see a cute dog on EastEnders, google it, find out they can order one and have it delivered the next day.”
Such hapless owners have no idea how to train or socialise their dogs and end up selling them on or dumping them, he said. Mistreatment, and poor care and diet, leave dogs with behavioural problems, and rescue centres then struggle to find new homes for them. “So we have this huge demand that the breeders can’t cope with, rescue centres overwhelmed and these big battery farms spewing out more,” said Abraham, who has set up PupAid, a campaign for better controls and licensing in the puppy trade.
His comments came after the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) said last week that increasing ignorance among people buying dogs – five million did no research before taking on an animal and were largely unaware of the specific needs of the breed – was leading to more aggressive dogs. The number of court cases involving attacks has risen by 62% year on year after a toughening of laws making owners directly responsible, but with eight postal workers attacked each day and more than 7,000 hospital admissions last year from dog bites, the problem is serious. The charity believes that the level of canine aggression is down to the owners and caused by poor dog socialisation and training, as well as animals not being properly exercised. The PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) report found nearly 250,000 dogs are acting viciously towards people each week, and more than 600,000 dogs are showing aggression towards other pets.
Vicki Larkham of the PDSA said: “Millions of dogs aren’t getting off-the-lead exercise outside their home or garden for 10 minutes or more on a daily basis. Close to a quarter of a million never go for walks on their lead for 10 minutes or more at all. Boredom and inactivity often contribute to anxiety and destructive behaviour. A properly trained and socialised puppy is less likely to act aggressively as it grows up. It’s up to every owner to make sure this happens.”
The annual report found that a quarter of people said that they would consider getting a puppy from a puppy farm, where animal welfare needs are unlikely to have been met.
“Despite rescue centres bursting with healthy dogs and puppies, people are spending God knows how much on sick and even dying puppies they’re ordering online,” said Abrahams.
He admits that some animal charities have not helped by being too rigorous in who they will allow to adopt their dogs. An e-petition set up by Abrahams, which attracted 100,000 signatures, succeeded in forcing through a recent debate in parliament on the regulation of pet sales, and he believes that there is a growing tide of political will to tackle the problem.
“The current legislation on the welfare of animals is from 1951,” he said, “before we had any notion of the setting up of online puppy supermarkets, of sellers shipping in puppies from Lithuania, Romania, and other eastern European countries, bringing in disease as well as miserable and often sick animals who have been taken away from their mothers far too early.
“A poorly socialised puppy grows into a nervous aggressive animal. There are all sorts of scams to get these animals into the country because there is so much money to be made as dog ownership becomes an impulse purchase.We’re way off where we should be with our animal welfare. People look at these videos of people butchering dogs and eating them in China – well, at least the animal is dead and feeling no pain. Many of our dogs are having a terrible time of it and the owners don’t even notice.”