From my ‘Crossing the headlines’ column in Dog World (11th June 2014) about puppy farmers and bad breeders.

A story that certainly got a lot of attention in the press recently was the case of Lisa Walsh, a ‘dog breeder’ who swindled money from puppy buyers in and around Norfolk. Norwich Crown Court heard that ‘customers’ would pay around £500 per puppy for what they were led to believe were Kennel Club registered and health tested puppies. Ms Walsh also cruelly falsified paperwork declaring that the puppies had been inoculated against deadly diseases such as parvo when they quite clearly hadn’t been – a truly despicable thing to do, potentially condemning those poor puppies to such a painful and totally avoidable death all to save a few pounds. Not surprisingly a number of the puppies bought from Walsh suffered vomiting and diarrhoea when their new owners took them home. One Labrador pup needed a £5,000 operation on its hip and another had to be put to sleep after it contracted parvovirus.

Walsh also ‘bought in’ litters and claimed that she had bred them on site. When she didn’t actually own an adult of the same breed to show as the mother (proof that Marc Abraham’s ‘Pup Aid’ is actually getting the general public to ask this all important question), she told buyers that the mother had ‘died giving birth’. Apparently this lie obviously worked so well she went on to use it for three separate litters of West Highland White Terriers and a litter of Cockers.

Phantom Paperwork

And, for once, we can’t quite so easily condemn the stupidity of those who bought these poor puppies as they were clearly advertised as being ‘KC registered’ and as being ‘fully innoculated’ (despite being sold at nine weeks old). Of course, we know that the puppy farmers claim that they have had more puppies in a litter than were actually born so that they then have extra papers to use on the puppies of ‘unknown ancestry’ passing them off to the uninitiated as a ‘purebred dog’. The Court heard that this is exactly what Walsh did to generate ‘phantom’ paperwork.

Having read the story I was convinced I’d heard of ‘Ms Walsh from Norfolk’ before and indeed I had. Warnings about her activities had been posted on the Horse & Hound website two years ago. People who had been duped into buying puppies had gone on the site to vent their anger and to seek advice from fellow dog owners. A common thread through all of them is that when concerned owners phoned to ask about the delay in their KC papers being sent to them Ms Walsh would blame any hold up on the KC. 

One ‘no nonsense’ poster wrote: “I am incredulous that any member of the public would visit a site as described and not realise this was a puppy farm and not suitable conditions from which to buy from. My God how stupid do you have to be?”

However, these people are cunning and conniving and are sadly all-too-often blessed with the innate ability to be totally believable as one of the gullible puppy buyers said in reply: “We didn’t know this at the time and when we went to her house there was only the pups’ mum and two puppies there. It was a basic house with a little boy. She was ever so friendly and chatty too…”

This is a difficult one. Imagine as a first time puppy buyer you go to a ‘nothing out of the ordinary’ kind of home and meet a friendly young mum. You are shown the pup’s mother and siblings and are then assured that the pups are KC registered and inoculated. Why wouldn’t you buy?

Obviously enough people were deceived as Ms Walsh had over £43,000 stashed in a building society account when she was arrested and Judge Anthony Bate said that trading standards officers had shown that in all she had pocketed a staggering £171,000. 

The sooner people like Lisa Walsh are dealt with by the authorities the better for the sake of the poor dogs in their ‘care’ and for the reputation of the good, law-abiding hobby breeders who are always so tarnished when stories like this hit the press. 

Find a puppy service

However, the fraudulent types and con artists are getting increasingly clever as I realised recently. My mum recently celebrated her 60th birthday and, having lost her much loved ‘Molly Moo’ (a very glamorous Miniature Long Haired Dachshund) six months ago at the grand old age of 15, she now felt the time was right to take on a new puppy. Having whittled down a list of suitable breeds, she settled for a Boston Terrier. So began the search for a suitable pup and the first port of call was the KC’s ‘find a puppy’ service. There were several litters for sale but one (an Assured Breeder in Bridlington) caught our eye. We phoned up and had a long chat with the breeder (who asked all the necessary questions and equally more than satisfactorily answered all of ours) and so, excitedly, two weeks later we took the long drive from our home in Dorset up to Yorkshire.

We were welcomed into their lovely home, meeting our new pup’s mum and her brothers and the family’s other dogs and eventually we left with our little Lola and clutching a whole plethora of diet sheets, pedigree and KC registration papers, toys, blankets, a dog bowl, a big sack of puppy food and even sick bags and tissues for any accidents on the long journey south!

Lola’s breeders couldn’t have done any more for us and we know that they are always at the end of a phone or a click away if we get into any difficulties. This is the kind of start every puppy deserves. It was only a couple of days later while researching some of the dogs in Lola’s pedigree that I stumbled across something quite alarming. The exact same advertisement that had been used to sell Lola (same sire’s name, same dam) popped up but the location was in Oxford and the price was a fraction of what one would expect to pay for a quality Boston pup. Clicking on it revealed yet another big difference; the photo depicted a skinny-looking, mismarked pup – not the chunky, chubby baby who races around my mother’s house. It was a simple ‘cut and paste’ job using all the details from this caring, Assured Breeder’s ad and then changing and adding the new location and contact details. It was an obvious scam and by the time the people who bought these poor ‘bargain’ pups discover the con, no doubt the ‘breeders’ will have disappeared from the house the pups were sold from.

It is a minefield out there for the unwary, what with the number of ‘scam registers’ that will register your guinea pig as a Rottweiler if you pay the right price and a cursory look on eBay will reveal a number of ads selling very professional-looking ‘blank pedigree papers’.

The KC could really lead the way here; it has a fantastic service in its ‘puppy finder’ but, in many cases, it is preaching to the converted. It needs more publicity and a TV advertisement so that IT becomes the first port of call for puppy buyers and not the puppy selling websites. And, maybe, it should consider changing the name of its ‘find a puppy’ service to ‘find a breeder’. I would like the public to start asking breeders, “Do you belong to the breed club?” or “Do you show/compete with your dogs?”. The importance of the breeder’s role in the process has to be hammered home; choose the breeder first… then the puppy.

Read more on Dog World’s website