The animals are, at worst, confined to small pens, rarely exercised and forced to live in their own filth. They are traumatised, deprived of contact with their mothers and suffer health problems.
A report published yesterday claims that legal loopholes and poor enforcement allow unscrupulous breeders to escape prosecution in a trade which is worth millions of pounds. There is also concern that some licensed breeders are flouting the law to increase profits. One litter of pedigree puppies could have a retail value of pounds 3,000.
The working party which produced the report was set up by the Commons All-Party Animal Welfare Group and included representatives from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the British Veterinary Association, the Kennel Club, the National Canine Defence League and the British Small Animals Veterinary Association.
Copies have been passed to the Prime Minister, the Home Office minister Tom Sackville, Environment minister David Curry and the Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, because of concern about the export of puppies, sometimes for consumption in the Far East.
The Tory MP Roger Gale, chairman of the group, said: "This is a national problem. We are seeking to ensure that all puppies sold are bred by licensed breeders. If we can achieve that then we might be able to start to stamp out this evil trade.
"We will be seeking all-party support for the introduction and implementation of legislation."
The report lists as particular problems:
t Puppies are taken from their mothers too early;
t Dogs are kept in cramped or unsuitable conditions;
t Bitches are bred too often;
t Dogs are given insufficient exercise and human contact.
Under current legislation farms with two or more breeding bitches must obtain a licence from the local authority. However, this requires only that consideration is taken of the structural surroundings the animals are kept in, basic feeding requirements and exercise arrangements.
However, the Puppy Farm Working Group is concerned that the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973 does not compel the local authority to ensure the health and welfare of the animals are reasonable before a licence is granted.
An RSPCA inspector, Rohan Barker, said: "The problem is that whenever we visit these farms the breeders claim the bitches are only pets and that the animals are regularly exercised. It is so frustrating because we are so powerless."
The group recommends that a veterinary surgeon should accompany local authority inspectors before a licence is granted and every farm should be visited on an annual basis before a licence is renewed.
The group believes the current penalty for unlicensed breeders of pounds 2,500 is sufficient but it recommends that local authorities should take tougher action against them. The best way to ensure that more premises become licensed is to demonstrate that those who break the law will be penalised, the group says.
The report highlights the involvement of dealers - some breeders sell direct but, more often, a middleman offers puppies for sale to pet shops, at car-boot sales or through classified advertisements in newspapers.
The working group believes the only way to establish a chain of sale, and protect the consumer, is for all puppies to be implanted with a microchip - inserted by a painless injection - providing a record of their background. The most simple, yet most draconian, measure to eradicate the trade is prevent the sale of puppies from pet shops.
Brian Leonard, of the Kennel Club, said: "Anybody buying puppies should do so from a registered breeder and see them in the conditions where they were born and with their mothers."Reuse content