Reports of illegal puppy farming in England have multiplied by almost five times in the last decade, the RSPCA has revealed.
The charity said it received 4,357 calls alerting it to potential cases in England in 2018, up from 890 in 2008. In Wales, the number of calls increased four-fold from 112 in 2008 to 452 in 2018.
The Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) does not hold figures for the last 10 years but said the number of puppy farming-related calls to its confidential helpline increased by 31 per cent from 2017 to 2018.
Illegal breeders can make millions of pounds rearing pups in dirty conditions, without food or water. According to The Kennel Club, a puppy farmer is defined as a high volume breeder who breeds puppies with little or no regard for the health and welfare of the pups or their parents.
Their main intent is profit and some farmers have sold sick or dying dogs to unsuspecting buyers for hundreds of pounds each.
According to BBC News, one animal welfare officer acknowledged the increased demand was partly driven by celebrity dogs on social media. Some pups gain thousands of followers as their owners share adorable pictures of them and as a result people want to get their hands on the same breed.
The RSPCA points out illegal sellers may use words like ‘miniature’ and ‘teacup’ in an attempt to capitalise on popular terms and convince people to buy from them.
The charity’s website has helpful tips for spotting adverts from puppy farms, advising potential buyers to google pictures, phone numbers and descriptions to see if they have been used elsewhere.
They also share tips for recognising a healthy, happy dog, explaining their eyes should be clear and bright, their nose cold and slightly wet and their breathing quiet and effortless.
Some dealers go to extreme lengths in order to make a profit as the RSPCA warned some farmers were renting out homes and inviting prospective dog owners to meet the puppies there, to make it appear as though the animals were being raised in clean environments.
Lisa Hens, the RSPCA’s dog welfare expert, said it was ‘distressing’ to see reports on the increase but added the rise could be down to people becoming ‘more savvy’ about illegal trading – a positive step in the move to end puppy farming.
Following a three-year Scrap the Puppy Trade campaign by the RSPCA, in October 2018 the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) introduced the Animal Welfare England Regulations 2018.
The legislation states any breeder producing three or more litters a year or making more than £1,000 in profit from puppy sales will require a licence from the local authority; a change in the previous law which stated breeders producing five or more litters a year would need a licence.
It adds no puppies, cats, ferrets or rabbits can be sold under eight weeks of age and any breeder advertising online must show the licence holder’s licence number, specify the local authority that issued the licence, include a recognisable photo of the dog and display the age of the dog.
Hopefully the increase in reports will help put a stop to illegal puppy farming but Hens pointed out buyers can avoid puppy farms altogether by rescuing a pup.
If you do have the time and money for a dog then we’d urge you to consider rescuing instead of buying a puppy. Not only will this give a rescue dog a chance at finding his forever home but it’ll also save any potential heartache caused by unwittingly buying a dog from a puppy farm.
There are thousands of lovely pups out there who need to be rescued and rehomed, however if you are interested in buying a dog take a look at the RSPCA’s tips for spotting a good breeder here.
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.