Born into a world of darkness and filth, with little or no human contact, they are often left without food or water. At just a few weeks old they are taken from their mothers and transported vast distances in search of profits for those who breed them.
The plight of hundreds of thousands of puppies and kittens bred in the pet equivalent of “battery farms” is a national pet “crisis” campaigners warned tonight.
There are no official statistics for what is a largely hidden problem, with many puppy farms not bothering to have a licence to breed animals. Yet the factory farming of pets for profit requires urgent action, according to experts. Young animals are not vaccinated against diseases or given basic vet care, resulting in a time bomb of future health problems. Thousands of animals are dying each year from poor health due to the terrible conditions in which they have been kept and bred, suffering diseases such as parvovirus and canine distemper, claim campaigners.
In a bid to crack down on the trade, more than a hundred thousand people have signed a petition calling on the government to “end the cruel practice of puppy/kitten farming” and ban the sale of young pets where the mother is not present and interacting with her litter.
Factory farmed puppies and kittens are separated from their mothers too early and go on to suffer weakened immune systems and shorter life spans, the petition claims. Launched by TV vet Marc Abraham earlier this year, it has now passed the 100,000 threshold needed to see the issue debated in the House of Commons.
“Puppy farming is an animal welfare crisis happening right under our noses and in my opinion it’s only the public now, through awareness and education, that have the power to stop this cruelty. This is a vile industry totally driven by disgusting greed and profit so if there’s no demand for these animals it will stop,” said Mr Abraham, founder of Pup Aid.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of puppy farms, across the country, many “battery farms for dogs” according to the vet.
A single shed, with 200 breeding bitches, can breed 4,000 puppies a year. And the profits can be vast – with puppies often sold on to dealers for around £30 a time, but sold on by dealers for hundreds of pounds each.
While informal breeding of dogs and cats is as old as the keeping of them as pets, industrial-scale farms are a modern day phenomenon – in part the legacy of past foot and mouth epidemics which saw farmers encouraged to switch to alternative ways of making money, such as breeding dogs. And while kitten farms do exist, the main problem is in puppies – driven by a demand which can see a single puppy fetching more than £500.
The RSPCA receives more than 1,500 complaints about puppy farms each year. A spokesman for the charity said: “We receive a huge number of calls from people who complain that puppies they have brought have then become extremely sick, or even died, shortly after purchase.”
But they added: “The stark reality is that while people continue to fuel the demand for such puppies, these rogue sellers will continue to operate.”
Hundreds of thousands [425,000] of people who have bought puppies online or in pets shops have failed to experience ‘overall good health’ of their pet, according to the Kennel Club. And some 85,000 puppies bought via social media or over the internet die before they reach six months old, it claims. “We have an extremely serious consumer protection and puppy welfare crisis on our hands,” commented Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club Secretary.
A spokesperson for the Dogs Trust, who are backing calls for a ban on the sale of puppies and kittens without their mother being present, warned that people should “look particularly at the interaction between the mother and its puppy, rather than simply being satisfied with a viewing of ‘the mother’ which may not be the pup’s mother at all.”
The demands for action over puppy farming have cross-party support. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said: “I will do all I can to promote a debate in the Chamber about it as soon as possible. Puppy and kitten farming is an inhumane practice, which the Government should ban immediately.”
Labour Rob Flello MP confirmed tonight he is to request a debate in the Commons – likely to take place in March next year. Puppy farming is “industrial in scale” and he warned that many places are not registered “and local authorities don’t have resources to inspect those that are.”
And Conservative MP Simon Kirby MP said: “As a dog owner myself this particular issue struck a chord. I signed this petition as puppy farming is an increasing problem, I understand that as many as one in three puppies are bought through outlets often used by puppy farmers. I therefore hope that time will be found for a debate on this important issue.”
In a statement, a Defra spokesperson said: “Anyone buying a puppy has a responsibility to ensure it is coming from a reputable place with high animal welfare standards.” They added: “They should also be able to see the puppy interacting with its mother.”