The Dog Factory, BBC1 - TV review: No Disney ending to exposure of dog trafficking

Culprits were exposed, named and shamed and confronted

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It’s hard to imagine real-life Cruella de Vils, unscrupulous figures who treat loyal, gentle animals as commodities. But as Sam Poling’s fascinating film The Dog Factory showed, trafficking – to line pockets rather than fur coats – is big business and dog owners must wise-up.

It’s estimated that a third of all dogs bought today in the UK come from puppy farms. The focus here was on the trade in Poling's native Scotland, following the trail of puppies with fudged paperwork and incomplete vaccinations from the sellers north of the border across the sea back to farms in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Poling’s award-winning undercover investigations on organised crime (from national security to drug trafficking) have previously helped to secure convictions. Here she showed similar rigour, often putting herself on the front line: meeting a seller in a dark corner of a freezing carpark; lying in wait for traffickers in laybys; trooping through snowfields in the middle of the night to capture footage of the UK’s largest “puppy farm”. Culprits were exposed, named and shamed and confronted.

Poling showed specialists her damning footage. Row upon row of cages filled with breeding bitches unused to human contact, fed via automated pipes. “They know how to be dogs, they haven’t a clue how to react to people,” said one expert, visibly shocked.

Unlike some other undercover films (like those fronted by a certain follicly-challenged former soap star) her motivation was to expose wrongs and try and instigate change in the pet industry, not to put herself at the centre.

She also put the onus on prospective owners to ask pertinent questions of breeders, to see the pups with their mothers and check vaccination certificates, rather than being taken in by the respectable façade of a cute-looking doggy in a window. “It looked like somewhere where footballers would stay,” said one victim who was reassured by the affluent address from which she went to pick up her new pet. Her dog, Winston, arrived already ill from a farm in Ireland.

We heard that according to current legislation, many of the conditions we’d seen footage of were considered legal. Incensed, Poling took her findings to the Scottish government. “Did that upset you?” she asked the chief veterinary officer, terrier-like.

In the end, we learnt that the culprits were still operating. But that’s the thing with these real life investigations - there is no Disneyfied happy ending.