From my Dog World column ‘Crossing the headlines’ (12th November 2014).

A few days ago an elderly neighbour from several doors down knocked. I was quite surprised to open the door and find her standing there as we have only ever exchanged the usual polite pleasantries but I immediately knew something was troubling her.

Wringing her hands she said the words I suppose many of us dread; “I hear you know a bit about dogs… I wonder if you could help me?”

I brought her in and made her a cup of coffee and she suddenly began to tell me about her granddaughter.

“My granddaughter has bought a dog and my daughter just doesn’t know what to do.”

It turned out that the lady’s 22-year-old granddaughter had suddenly decided that she wanted a dog and this wasn’t her first one; the first had been a Cocker-cross that she had got from rescue a couple of years ago. At that time she’d been in a stable relationship, owned a flat and had a young child but then that particular relationship hit the rocks and with the dog and toddler in tow she moved back to her mother’s.

Unsettled home

The spaniel quite understandably didn’t settle down at the new address so when its barking and energetic ways proved too much to cope with, it was eventually returned to the rescue shelter. In the space of a few weeks her whole life had crumbled and to make matters worse her child was then diagnosed with autism.

To her credit she didn’t wallow in self pity or live on benefits but quickly set about getting her life back on track and, quite admirably, secured herself a new job working long evening shifts as her mother had kindly stepped-up to look after her child while she was away and it was there, through work, that she met and started dating a young man.

Life was at long last looking up for her. The new relationship quickly blossomed and became serious enough to announce to the world on Facebook and as if to cement their new love what better way of proving there commitment to one another than buying a new puppy together?

It was really a case of killing two birds with one stone as the young lady had recently read an article saying how having a pet dog can help children with autism.

A Labrador puppy was quickly sourced one Saturday afternoon from an advert on the internet. The heart-melting picture attached to the advert was of a gorgeous, fluffy six-week old male.

Excitedly, the girl rang up the breeders. Yes, he was still available with a price tag of £500 and they would also require a £50 non-refundable deposit to secure the pup of her choice. He was a pedigree Labrador but going without papers as the “dad was a rescue dog.”

The £50 deposit was quickly paid as “there had been a lot of interest in him” and the puppy was secured. The plan of getting a dog was then discussed with the girl’s mother. She wasn’t convinced that having a dog would be a good idea, especially after the experience with the spaniel, but she was eventually won over by the potential good it could bring to her grandchild however, before giving the go-ahead, she wanted to run the idea by her brother who bred and showed Irish Terriers.

He was appalled by what he heard but said if she’s determined to have a puppy then let me find her a good one.

He found a well-bred pedigree puppy by a reputable assured breeder who lived close by with decades of experience. No deposit was required and the puppy would leave with a puppy pack, full breeder support, its first injection and four week’s insurance and all for £50 more than the other pup which had none of those things including the free insurance.

The proposition was put to the girl… and she flatly refused to even consider it.

She’d fallen in love with the other pup and insisted that her uncle’s negative views were as a result of him being a “showdog snob”.

Mixed messages

The poor mother in this sorry tale was now in two minds what to do; her brother was telling her that having the pup sourced from the internet, was “a disaster waiting to happen” and her daughter was equally insistent that all showdogs were “inbred, diseased mutants”. 

Of course I sided strongly with the uncle but I doubt my opinion will have much effect, for as the old woman put it, her granddaughter was an extremely headstrong girl and always determined to get her own way.

One doesn’t need the psychic powers of Mystic Meg to know what is going to happen. In the not-too-distant future a bewildered Labrador will no doubt enter the rescue shelter conveyor belt to become yet another statistic. Similar scenarios are being played out all over the country.

People constantly bang on about education as being the solution to the growing numbers of dogs in rescue… but is it really? We now have a generation who takes its moral and social guidance from such luminaries as Joey Essex and Katie Price. 

Or maybe some people have been too fully ‘educated’ and now know the interrogation any responsible breeder will give them. I doubt if a breeder of repute would have sold a puppy to the determined young lady described above as she was a night shift worker with a young child living in her mother’s home – far easier to go to someone who doesn’t ask any such awkward questions.

Information on buying, keeping and raising a dog has never been so easily obtainable and it’s all free and there at a tap of a keyboard. The message ‘a dog is for life not just for Christmas’ has been drummed into us for over 35 years and yet, still, every Christmas and New Year without fail, our shelters swell in numbers with abandoned and unwanted ‘Christmas gifts’.

A whole new approach to this problem is needed as the current way of doing things quite clearly isn’t working.

It’s time for the problem to be tackled at its source; maybe it would be a good idea for the taxman to trawl through the free-ad papers and websites and pay undercover visits to some of these establishments – just as was done to tradesmen, eBay sellers and Avon ladies in a 2012 crackdown. It would be very interesting to discover how many of these ‘breeders’ are declaring their income… and in many cases it really is an income.

Just out of interest, I phoned the ‘breeder’ of the internet sourced Labrador puppy and they told me that there was only one puppy left out of a litter of eight and also reassured me that he was a ‘pure Labrador but dad didn’t have paperwork as he was a rescue’. 

I discovered the puppy wouldn’t be leaving with any of his injections and he’d had a somewhat hit-and-miss worming regime – being wormed at three and seven weeks. 

He was fed on a supermarket dried food and wouldn’t even be covered by a modicum of basic insurance. 

This breeder will have made a total of £4,000 with relatively little expense incurred and they will have made quite a considerable profit. Regardless of profit or loss, all income must be declared and, unlike the responsible breeder who registers their pups, making their income verifiable, these unregistered litters are totally off the radar and, once sold for cash and the adverts duly removed, there is almost no way of proving that they ever existed.

Surely it’s time that these opportunists – the ones who are fuelling the staggeringly high numbers of dogs needing rescue – get their collars felt.

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