The sale of puppies under eight weeks old is to be made illegal under plans to crack down on so-called backstreet breeders and puppy farms.
Anyone breeding and selling three or more litters of puppies a year will have to apply for a formal licence under tougher rules announced by Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom.
Smaller breeders as well as commercial breeders will have to meet a “strict welfare criteria” and those who sell pets on the internet will be subject to the same licensing regulations.
Breeders who break the rules face an unlimited fine and up to six months in prison. Ms Leadsom said: “Everyone who owns a pet or is looking to introduce one into their life will want to know that the animal has had the very best start to life.
“Yet for thousands of puppies born each year to irresponsible breeders, from smaller operations to larger puppy farms, their first weeks are spent in cramped and squalid conditions without the care and attention they need.
“That is why we are cracking down on the worst offenders by strengthening the dog breeding licence and giving councils the power they need to take action.”
Battersea Dogs & Cats Home praised the plans as a “welcome first step”. The charity’s chief executive Claire Horton said: “It’s high time we put a stop to the many undercover backstreet breeders and large-scale puppy farmers that profit from their cruel treatment of these animals.
“No puppy should start its life in cramped, squalid surroundings, before being torn away from their mother at a few weeks old.
“So many owners buying their new pet would be horrified to know that this was indeed the case.”
Kennel Club secretary Caroline Kisko said: “We are pleased that Defra will be taking forward proposals to ban the sale of puppies under the age of eight weeks by commercial third parties.
“We have called for a ban on third party sales, and refuse to register puppies being sold to third parties, but this new rule is a step in the right direction.
“We also welcome the requirement for pet sellers to provide written information about the animals they sell and for those who sell pets online to display their licence number.”
The plans to tighten up laws around selling pets and breeding dogs will make it completely illegal to sell puppies younger than eight weeks and require anyone breeding and selling three or more litters of puppies a year to apply for a formal licence. Irresponsible breeders who don’t stick to these rules face an unlimited fine and/or up to six months in prison.
The new rules will mean smaller establishments – sometimes called ‘backstreet breeders’ – which supply thousands of dogs to families each year, as well as larger commercial breeders, must meet strict welfare criteria to get a licence. Irresponsible breeders can neglect the health and welfare of the puppies they raise and may not properly vaccinate them, leading to steep vets’ bills and heartbreak for buyers.
The rules will also be updated and made fit for the modern age with anyone trading commercially in pets online needing to be properly licensed, to help make reputable sellers easily accessible to prospective buyers.
The plans also cover how pet shops, boarding houses and riding stables are licensed, introducing a single ‘animal activities licence’ to improve the process and make enforcement easier.
Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom said:
Everyone who owns a pet or is looking to introduce one into their life will want to know that the animal has had the very best start to life. Yet for thousands of puppies born each year to irresponsible breeders, from smaller operations to larger puppy farms, their first weeks are spent in cramped and squalid conditions without the care and attention they need. That is why we are cracking down on the worst offenders by strengthening the dog breeding licence and giving councils the power they need to take action.
With more and more pet sales now taking place on the internet, it’s right that this market is subject to the same strict licensing criteria as other breeders and pet shops so that consumers are not misled. The plans announced today will help people choosing new family pets to be confident the animals have been properly bred and cared for from birth and are ready to move safely to their new homes.
Under the new plans, pet shops will also be required to give buyers written information about the animals they buy, with details of the five welfare needs owners must meet under the Animal Welfare Act around environment, diet, behaviour, housing and freedom from pain. This advice is particularly important when buying exotic pets, which can have very specific welfare needs.
Welcoming the plans, Dogs Trust Veterinary Director, Paula Boyden, said:
As the UK’s largest dog welfare charity, Dogs Trust welcomes the Government’s review of animal establishments licensing in England and the range of measures it sets out.
We are particularly pleased that it will be illegal to sell a puppy below the age of 8 weeks and that there will be tighter licensing rules which will require sellers of pets to display their licence when advertising. We also applaud the move towards a risk based single licensing system which will incorporate those breeders that have gained UKAS approval rather than exempting them.
We believe that Local Authority Inspectors need support to enforce these tighter licensing rules. As such, moves to mandate the use of Model Conditions and for inspectors to be offered training and standards to be set is most welcome.
Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club Secretary said:
We are pleased that Defra will be taking forward proposals to ban the sale of puppies under the age of 8 weeks by commercial third parties; we have called for a ban on third party sales, and refuse to register puppies being sold to third parties, but this new rule is a step in the right direction. We also welcome the requirement for pet sellers to provide written information about the animals they sell and for those who sell pets online to display their licence number.
As the litter licensing threshold is set to reduce from five litters to three we look forward to working with Defra on the new risk based licensing system, to ensure that UKAS accredited Assured Breeder Scheme (ABS) members will continue to be inspected by the Kennel Club for the maximum licence length of three years. This will incentivise more breeders to join the scheme, and breed to a higher standard of welfare that the ABS requires, and reduce the inspection burden on local authorities.
Pet owners are also being urged to make sure their pet’s microchip details are up to date. Latest figures show 94% of dogs have been fitted with microchips, nine months after the Government introduced a law requiring all dogs to be painlessly fitted with a chip containing their owner’s details. But a Battersea Dogs and Cats Home study of stray dogs last year found that only 20% of their microchips contained up to date information.
It’s vital that owners who move house or change their phone number make sure they keep their pet’s details up to date, so they can be reunited should their four-legged friend ever go missing. Owners can check with their microchip provider that their details are correct.
Andrea Leadsom added:
It is absolutely critical that owners not only make sure their pet is microchipped, but that they also make sure details are kept up to date so they can be reunited if their pet is lost or stolen.
It is excellent to see that so many owners have taken action to get their dogs chipped, yet all too many still need to be rehomed because the owner hasn’t updated their details—heart-breaking for the owner and the dog, and easily avoidable with a five-minute phone call.
“Go to any rescue centre and you will see there are more than enough puppies already in Scotland. We don’t need any more.
“Dogs are not animals that should be bred in factory-like settings.”
The proposed pup factory will be sited on a farm near Galston.
The application has been made by Hazel Hamilton who is married to a businessman linked to a massive puppy farm.
Husband Stephen Hamilton, 46, is the brother of David and Jonathan Hamilton who run the UK Dog Breeding Academy, in Fivemiletown, County Tyrone.
It doesn’t sell to the public and is claimed to be the largest licensed dog breeding establishment in the UK.
The Fivemiletown facility previously featured in a hard-hitting BBC documentary about puppy farming.
In the programme, footage from inside the rural kennels showed dozens of young dogs huddled together in disused trailers without their mothers.
The reporter claimed she found hundreds of breeding bitches in battery-farmed and “freezing” conditions at the Irish premises.
The footage was blasted by Sheila Voas, chief veterinary surgeon with the Scottish Government, who said at the time the programme was aired: “It was barbaric. It was a production line. It was using animals as a commodity.”
The facility’s former vet also made a number of allegations about practices at the HQ.
Mr David Bailey, a former Northern Irish government veterinarian who worked for the Hamiltons for three years, claimed David Hamilton had been reluctant to keep a log of every dog kept at the kennel.
The expert said: “It was like a production facility that you would expect to find in a bad pig-raising plant. Every animal on the premises was given an antibiotic injection every week, then we’d change the antibiotic every month because we could not control the infections.”
But the Hamiltons were furious at the documentary and complained to TV regulators Ofcom.
A solicitor for the family said that they had not broken any laws running their business.
The Hamiltons also complained they had received death threats after the programme aired.
But their complaint of “unwarranted infringement of privacy in connection with the obtaining of material included in the programme” was thrown out by the watchdog earlier this year.
There is no suggestion the planned Ayrshire farm would be run along the same lines as the large farm in Northern Ireland.
Futhermore there is absolutely no suggestion either Stephen or Hazel Hamilton have any track record of cruel behaviour to animals.
However that fact is unlikely to stem objections to the proposal from being made to East Ayrshire Council on animal welfare grounds.
SNP MSP Emma Harper, who is campaigning on the issues of puppy farms, is fearful that animal welfare practices at the Irish kennels could be replicated at the proposed new Scottish mass-breeding centre.
“My concern is the welfare of potentially hundreds of dogs,” she said.
“I don’t think a licence should be granted until a thorough investigation into this proposal is done.
“This family’s operations in Ireland have been implicated in welfare issues.”
A spokeswoman for animal welfare charity the Scottish SPCA confirmed it would be objecting to the plans.
“We will be discussing the current application with the East Ayrshire Council as a matter of urgency,” an inspector told The Sunday Post.
“We are liaising with councils across Scotland in an attempt to ensure the welfare of puppies and breeding bitches involved in the licensed and unlicensed commercial trade.”
Dr Rachel Connor, who signed an objection on behalf of the local community council, said: “Although the community council was unanimous in its opinion that there should not be a puppy farm, it’s not a planning situation.
“Nobody was in favour but we had to think about it in other ways like access and traffic in our objection.”
May Anderson, formerly of Waterside Action Group, is backing the Scottish SPCA.
She said: “Mr Hamilton put the application in his wife’s maiden name to ask for planning permission to change a barn to a building for rearing dogs. I think it’s a matter for the Scottish SPCA.”
A spokeswoman for East Ayrshire Council said: “We can confirm we have received an application for a dog breeding licence.”
She added it states a maximum of 40 breeding dogs would be kept on the site.
The plans were lodged with the council last month and will be considered at an upcoming planning meeting.
A council spokeswoman told The Sunday Post that objections to the plan are expected – including from Police Scotland.
However, she declined to reveal on what grounds police chiefs were expected to object.
Police Scotland said it couldn’t comment either. A spokeswoman said only: “We have not currently put in any objections.”
A Sunday Post reporter tried to contact Stephen and Hazel Hamilton at their farm in rural Ayrshire.
However, they refused to comment when approached on Friday evening.
The ferry operator Stena Line is to crack down on illegal puppy dealers found to be using its Belfast to Cairnryan service.
News of the move follows a BBC investigation which highlighted how the route was being used to traffic puppy-farmed dogs into Scotland.
Britain’s Puppy Dealers Exposed covertly-filmed handovers of puppies to a group of Scottish dog dealers.
The animals had been sourced from a puppy farm in Northern Ireland.
The BBC Panorama team also found evidence of dogs shipped from puppy farms in the Irish Republic which were then sold by online sellers as animals bred in Scotland.
Stena Line is working alongside Scottish SPCA investigators at the Cairnryan port as part of a multi-agency approach to target the dealers.
Under the operation – codenamed Delphin – Scottish SPCA investigators are using new powers to stop and search the vehicles of those it suspects of illegally trafficking puppies.
Anyone found to be illegally shipping dogs to the UK mainland will be stopped from travelling further and turned back to Belfast.
Those who refuse to go back face being prosecuted and having their puppies seized.
Stena said it was keen to ban illegal puppy dealers from using its service but such a move would require a change in legislation.
Diane Poole, a spokeswoman for the ferry operator, said: “Stena Line totally condemns the illegal trafficking of puppies and works hard to stamp out the practice by carrying out a number of checks to ensure the safe and comfortable transportation of pets.
“However, ultimately the legal enforcement of this responsibility lies with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development [Dard] in Northern Ireland and the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs [Defra] in the rest of the UK.
“Stena Line has a close working relationship with both Dard and Defra and is working on a number of collaborative measures with the authorities to help eradicate this illegal practice.”
She added: “Stena is determined to take action where it can and to send the clear message that illegal puppy dealers are not welcome on our services.”
A spokesman for the Scottish SPCA, which is leading Operation Delphin, said: “The puppy trade is a huge business and it is unacceptable that puppies are coming in to the UK via Scotland. Our new initiative will mean that dealers will no longer be able to use Cairnryan.”
While figures do not exist on the number of puppies trafficked into Cairnryan, it is believed that as many as 40,000 are being farmed and trafficked into the UK from Ireland each year.
The Scottish SPCA spokesman added: “It’s a huge problem. Ireland is the warehouse and the gateway – unfortunately – is often through the port of Belfast, then into Scotland and onto the rest of the UK.”
The BBC investigation tracked the puppy supply chain from source to sale, filming the conditions inside puppy farms filled with dogs bound for the UK market.
The programme also revealed the existence of so-called “show-bitches” – adult female dogs that were being provided by puppy farmers in Ireland along with litters of pups.
The bitch would then be passed off by unscrupulous Scottish puppy sellers as their own family pet.
It has led to wider calls for a clampdown on the puppy trade.
Cruelty Free International has taken legal action against the Home Office and its plans to expand a horrific Yorkshire beagle farm for animal experiments.
Tens of thousands of dogs are imprisoned in laboratories around the world, and injected with or force-fed substances. They can suffer horrific effects such as vomiting, diarrhoea, internal bleeding, organ damage, seizures, paralysis and even death.
These poor animals are often supplied by purpose-built breeding facilities, which churn out litter after litter of puppies. They are then separated from their mothers and sent off to be experimented on. Their mothers, meanwhile, are generally kept as ‘breeding machines’ until they no longer ‘serve a purpose’ and are killed.
The story so far: In 2011 animal breeding and rearing company, Bantin & Kingman Ltd (B&K), applied for planning permission to expand its Yorkshire beagle farm. This was so that it could breed thousands of dogs for experiments. But, following intensive campaigning, the application was rejected. The rejection was on the grounds that B&K had not provided enough information on how it would manage the noise from the dogs, which could be a ‘nuisance’ for local residents.
In 2013 B&K made a fresh application which addressed some of the planning concerns that had been raised previously. But part of its proposal to manage noise was to ensure dogs were not given any access to outdoor runs. However, EU law requires dog breeding establishments to provide dogs with outside access wherever possible. So it was no longer just a planning issue; there were legal implications too. B&K therefore needed permission from the UK Home Office not to have outside runs.
Astonishingly, B&K later claimed that denying dogs outdoor runs was to protect their health and ensure they were suitable for experiments. (They said this even though in the past dogs at the site did have outdoor runs, with no problems).
In mid-2015, Cruelty Free International was shocked to discover that the Home Office had granted B&K permission to keep dogs indoors at all times. This was on the basis that outdoor runs could compromise their health by exposing them to infections carried by wildlife. This could in turn, it was claimed, invalidate the results of laboratory tests.
The Secretary of State for Local Government and Communities, who was overseeing the planning appeal, was then satisfied that there would not be a noise issue for locals (with dogs being kept indoors). So he approved B&K’s planning application to expand.
This means that denying dogs access to outdoor runs for ‘health reasons’ conveniently removed the noise nuisance problem that had so far prevented B&K’s application from progressing.
A violation of EU law Cruelty Free International believe that had the Home Office not authorised B&K to keep dogs indoors at all times, the application would probably have been rejected by the Secretary of State. This would mean B&K would not be allowed to expand and breed thousands of dogs for use in experiments.
The decision is an outrage and strongly suggests the Home Office wanted to support B&K’s planning appeal. It has failed to carry out ‘due diligence’ in order to make a reasoned judgement. For example, it has not cited any evidence regarding infections to support its claims.
So not only is it cruel to deny dogs access to fresh air, but CFI believe the decision is a violation of EU law.
Taking the Home Office to court Cruelty Free International has launched legal proceedings against the Home Office decision. They have now been given the green light by a judge to take their case to a full hearing in court.
This is our last chance to fight for the Yorkshire beagles and CFI are urgently asking for our support.
Please donate today and your gift could help fund the legal costs of challenging the Home Office in the High Court of Justice.
Cruelty Free International has been campaigning for almost five years to stop the expansion of a beagle farm in Yorkshire, England. To donate today and help the fight to protect the Yorkshire beagles in the High Court of Justice, click here.
Tougher dog breeding licensing to protect the welfare of puppies from back street breeders will be introduced under proposals announced today.
A consultation is seeking to strengthen the regulations around dog breeding and pet sales to make it easier to identify and take action against irresponsible breeders who pay little regard to the health and welfare of the puppies they raise. This is a particular problem amongst smaller breeding establishments – known as ‘backstreet breeders’ – which supply thousands of dogs to UK families each year.
Animal Welfare Minister George Eustice said, “We are a nation of dog lovers but it is crucial that puppies are cared for properly and socialised in the first three months if they are to enjoy healthy and happy lives.
We are aiming to reform the licensing regime we have so that smaller puppy breeding establishments must abide by the same regulations and licensing rules as bigger breeders so that the worst offenders can be dealt with more quickly.
We are also reviewing other animal related licensed activities such as pet sales to address problems associated with the growing trend for internet sales that can contribute to impulse buying.”
The consultation will tighten up the licensing regulations for breeders by clarifying existing rules requiring any breeding businesses to have a licence. The proposals will also increase the number of smaller backstreet breeders – who may not consider themselves a business – that will require a licence by making it a requirement for anyone producing three or more litters of puppies in a year.
The consultation also seeks to formalise the adoption of existing model conditions on good breeding health and welfare by making it a requirement of breeders to comply with the conditions and for local authorities to use them.
Claire Horton, CEO of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home and non-executive Director of AHWBE, said: “Battersea Dogs & Cats Home has long recognised the cruel problem of backstreet breeding in Britain. The government’s proposals are extremely encouraging, having listened to the important calls we have made in our nationwide campaign to end this unacceptable practice.
Reducing the number of litters a breeder can produce in a year, without a licence, will ensure that more breeders will be brought under the scope of regulation, which we believe will protect the lives and welfare of more of the vulnerable dogs who really need it. It will also provide greater protection for buyers – those looking to take on a dog deserve to be confident that their puppy has been given the best start in life, and bred by a responsible, properly-regulated breeder.”
Local authorities will also be able to better target their enforcement activity by directing less resource at responsible businesses, for example those who are controlled by the Kennel Club’s UKAS-accredited Assured Breeders’ Scheme – which has 6,000 members. This will free up resources to follow-up on reports of poor welfare at backstreet breeding establishments.
For the first time, the consultation will also clarify that online retailers selling puppies should be treated in the same way as high street pet shops by local authorities – meaning they must abide by the same licensing and welfare regulations.
Through the Pet Advisory Action Group (PAAG) – Defra and welfare charities have worked with six major online advertising sites to remove over 130,000 inappropriate adverts of pets where there were concerns about the welfare and background of the animal.
PAAG is now looking at broadening this successful approach to other sites, and to educate prospective buyers to what they should be looking out for if they are looking for a pet online, such as if can they visit and see the dog with its mother before they buy and check that the seller is a properly licensed breeder.