From my ‘Crossing the headlines’ column in Dog World (15th January 2014) where I discuss why, despite recent bad press and feedback, the ABS is the way forward for responsible dog breeding.

Recently I wrote about an article in the Daily Mail that had proclaimed the arrival of the ‘cutest dog in the world’, the Cavapoochon. It was a piece of totally irresponsible journalism playing on the ‘ever-puppy-like’ looks of this new designer ‘breed’ and placed just before Christmas. This was followed by a very jovial piece about the arrival of the Wottie, a unintentional cross between a Rottweiler and a West Highland Terrier!

Just as I’d begun to despair, a recent Daily Mail article, excellently written by Steve Bird, somewhat redeemed the paper. The headline certainly pulled no punches as it stated in bold letters, “Foreign gangs, rabies and appalling cruelty, The sickening truth about those cute Xmas puppies for sale on the internet.”

The piece went on to describe the harrowing experience of Lisa Gentle. This attentive mum recognised the early signs of Autism in her young son and, following expert advice, decided to buy him a much-wanted puppy. The love of an affectionate puppy would, she was told, help to keep him calm.

Lisa thought that a Bichon Frisé would be an ideal companion, as the breed are renowned for being gentle and affectionate. She then noticed a simple advert in her local ‘free ads’ paper, offering “ready to go male Bichon Frisé puppies”. After a quick phone call they excitedly drove to the house to pick up their puppy.

Shown with mother

The woman showed them in and they noticed three Bichon puppies asleep in an area set aside for the dogs. The owner claimed the little bitch who was scampering around them was the puppies’ mother however, looking back on things, Lisa admits that the alleged mother showed absolutely no interest in her supposed offspring.

Then, when she picked up the puppy, she noticed sawdust matted in his fur even though there was no sawdust in the room. The owner explained this away by saying there was ‘sawdust in the backyard.’

Maybe detecting some suspicion, the ‘breeder’ claimed the puppies were home-reared and then went on to show what appeared to be Kennel Club certificates – proof that she was a certified dog breeder. After handing over £400 Lisa and her son, Christian, left with their new pup.

That first evening Christian spent the whole time just looking at his new dog. He was “over the moon” recalled Lisa.
In contrast to Christian’s excitement and joy, the puppy was becoming increasingly lethargic. Over the next few days the little pup, named Toby, became withdrawn and would whine and hide under the dining table. His nose was running and his eyes were weeping. Lisa took him to the vets who gave him a shot of antibiotics but these didn’t seem to help and little Toby began vomiting. Once again he was rushed to the vets, blood samples were taken and the ailing puppy was put on a drip.

But it was too late and, at 8am New Years Day, Lisa got a phone call from the vet to say little Toby had died. The blood results showed that he’d had parvovirus.

Lisa admits to being totally naïve when buying Toby but the horrifying experience quickly taught her many things. She later discovered the ‘Kennel Club’ certificate was a forgery and the supposed ‘breeder’ (who hadn’t returned any of her calls) had moved house.

“Toby was obviously bred on a puppy farm,” says Lisa, “I now know it’s best to buy from a KC registered or Assured Breeder. Buying a puppy cheap on the internet or from a newspaper advert is a false economy. Breeding a dog properly costs money.”

I couldn’t put it better myself. For far too long we have allowed the media and others to denigrate the caring ethical breeders in this country – many of whom have now retired or have significantly scaled back their breeding activities. However, the demand for ‘pedigree puppies’ certainly hasn’t reduced and unscrupulous charlatans have quickly filled the vacant niche and are cruelly exploiting it. And, now, alongside our own ‘puppy farmers’ we have organised gangs – mainly from Eastern Europe – taking advantage of the EU’s lax border controls.

Mark Rolfe, manager of Kent Trading Standards is quoted as seeing “a huge rise in reports of people arriving with puppies which are not what they seem to be”.

EU rules introduced in January 2012 now allow a visitor to bring in five microchipped pets. “This,” says the article, “has led to vanloads of 15-20 puppies accompanied by three or four ‘owners’.” If they have the correct paperwork the authorities are powerless to seize them. Yet, the puppies are almost inevitably from puppy farms.

Aside from the cruelty involved in this despicable trade and the well-founded fears of the spread of rabies and other diseases (as a number of importers are becoming greedy and are falsifying pet passport records, or administering rabies vaccine before the pup is 12 weeks old – the point at which the vaccine works) there is the worry of just how these ‘pedigree’ pups were produced. It matters not to the ‘breeders’ of these pups (produced on a near industrial scale) whether the parents are brother and sister, mother and son, etc, and these ‘puppy farm’ puppies are showing genetic abnormalities when they are taken to the vets further fuelling the antipathy towards the pedigree world.

Muddying the waters

One thing’s for sure; these ‘breeders’ wont be health testing their stock and in many cases the stock produced wont be KC registered, however,  outwardly they will still look like a Pug, Dachshund or French Bulldog, and the figures for those breeds suffering from hip dysplasia, patella luxation, PRA and entropion will all be duly logged. But, will the origins of these afflicted animals be taken into consideration? Probably not, and so these unfortunate animals will provide the vets and media the stick with which to beat the KC, the pedigree dog and pedigree breeders. More will turn to the ‘healthier designer dog’ and so the cycle continues…
Of course it needn’t be this way. The answer to this mess is out there.

Lisa Gentle and her son learned a hard lesson as they watched their poor puppy die an agonising death but now she vows she will never buy through an anonymous advert again. She now owns two healthy Maltese puppies that she found through the KC Assured Breeder Scheme.

This is just the kind of tale that should feature heavily on the future Crufts programmes. I fully support the work and e-petition of Marc Abrahams but, as illustrated, these devious people will work their way around the protocol of ‘always seeing the puppies mother present’. But at least he is making a start and he does have a valid point. Time and time again successive governments have looked to tackle the puppy farmers and failed. Wouldn’t it be better to put the onus on the purchaser? Show how many of these ‘cheap puppies’ end up costing thousands. With the internet and the wealth of information available there is no excuse for ignorance when buying a puppy.

Once again the KC was ahead of the game when back in September 2013 it launched a video and app advising puppy buyers. But as I’ve asked before how many puppy buyers actually think of the KC when they need advice? How many of the general public actually know this service exists? A well made emotive advert campaign could get the KC’s name and message out to the masses and drive people to its site, video and app. We need to push Lisa’s message that breeding a dog properly costs money but far better to pay for a well bred, socalised and loved puppy than the £1,500-£2,000 vet bill for the treatment of parvovirus which so many of these ill-bred farmed puppies go on to develop. The message needs to be shouted in the coming months; if you want a pedigree puppy ONLY buy from a KC registered or Assured Breeder. Despite the mischief-making and scorn poured upon it, I believe the ABS is the way forward. I bought my puppy through it and was thoroughly quizzed (bordering on interrogation!) on my intentions, my home, working hours and the security of my garden and this is exactly as it should be. Buying a healthy happy pedigree puppy isn’t difficult if you actually happen to know where to look.

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