Cruel puppy farms in the dog house

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A grey and white Shihtzu puppy sits shivering on a bed of newspapers covered in excrement. In a nearby kennel, a pair of Shelties have only an orange crate for a bed.

A King Charles spaniel stares sadly through the bars of his kennel, while a Labrador bitch sits on a pallet with only a saucepan of dirty water for sustenance.

These were the cramped and filthy scenes which greeted Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals inspectors when they paid a visit to a puppy farm in west Wales last week.

The pictures were released on video yesterday as the charity urged MPs to support a private member's Bill aimed at clamping down on cruelty in puppy farms.

The Breeding and Sale of Dogs Bill, promoted by Diana Maddock, the Liberal Democrat MP for Christchurch, would make it easier for councils to prosecute unlicensed breeders and improve welfare standards at licensed breeding establishments.

But given the pressure on parliamentary time, it stands no chance of becoming law unless the Government lets it go through to committee stage "on the nod" when it receives its Second Reading on Friday.

The Bill incorporates many recommendations made last year in a report on puppy breeding for the all-party parliamentary group on animal welfare. It has the backing of more than 80 local authorities as well as the RSPCA. Around 20,000 members of the public have signed a petition of support.

Ms Maddock said yesterday that local authorities and the RSPCA needed "teeth" to act. "People are buying puppies and they don't know what they're buying. If you have not seen a puppy with its mother, you don't know what kind of establishment it comes from," she said.

Puppy farms are supposed to have a licence from their local council, but even this does not guarantee good welfare standards - as the unnamed farm in Wales demonstrated. In the worst cases, dogs are kept in dirty, damp conditions, bitches are forced to breed excessively and puppies are removed too early from their mothers.

The poor conditions often created health problems which require expensive veterinary treatment later on. In many cases, dogs which have been maltreated are also difficult to train when they get older.

"This is not controversial," Ms Maddock said. "The people who will have to carry it out - the local authorities - are behind us. We hope the minister, Tom Sackville, will back it."

Roger Gale, the Conservative chairman of the all-party animal welfare group, condemned the farms as a "vile trade". And Elliot Morley, Labour's spokesman on animal welfare, said that if the Bill was not successful, any future Labour government would introduce measures to tackle the problem.

Kate Parminter, for the RSPCA, said the charity wanted tougher legislation to be able to do its job properly.

The Bill would require an independent vet to be involved in initial and annual inspections of establishments, lay down clear welfare standards and make it easier for local authorities to act against unlicensed breeders.

Ms Parminter said the video footage shown yesterday was typical of what inspectors found across the country, where animals were being raised purely for profit with no thought of their well-being.

"The RSPCA is opposed to practices where animals are treated merely as commodities. It's a disgrace," she said.

A pedigree Labrador puppy bought from a licensed breeder might cost as much as pounds 800, two or three times as much as from a less reputable trader. Some of the animals are transported abroad, often to the Far East.

n The Government was yesterday urged to carry out an immediate "risk assessment" on its rumoured plans to replace quarantine rules with a new system of identification and vaccination, writes James Cusick.

With the Green Paper on the new proposals expected within the month, the lobby group the Pet Advisory Committeebacked the easing of quarantine rules, providing that safeguards were included in any change. "Consideration should be given to a relaxation of the quarantine regulations for animals entering the UK from other EU and rabies-free countries, based upon a risk assessment and feasibility study," it said.