London: The sale of puppies without their mother present will be banned in a bid to end the “disturbing” trade of animals bred in puppy farms, Theresa May has announced.
The Prime Minister, who had two dogs during her childhood — a poodle named Tassel and a mongrel called Lucky — said she wants to ensure that families can enjoy the arrival of a “happy, healthy” puppy that has not suffered from maltreatment and cruelty.
The new legislation will require all sellers to show potential buyers the puppies alongside their mothers before the sale takes place, marking the biggest change in pet vending for 66 years.
The move is designed to stop people buying puppies online without ever seeing them, which is fuelling animal cruelty.
Licensed dog breeders will also be banned from selling puppies they have not bred themselves and online adverts will have to include the seller’s licence number, the country of origin and country of residence of the pet being advertised.
The announcement was warmly welcomed by animal charities who said it would crack down on a “despicable” multi-million pound illegal trade but warned that enforcement must be tightly monitored.
Paula Boyden, Veterinary Director at Dogs Trust, said: “We’re greatly encouraged that the government is taking steps to address the breeding and sale of unhealthy and underage puppies.
“There are long overdue changes that need to be made to improve this failing legislation. As a priority, we also hope to see increased penalties for those illegally importing puppies and a significant overhaul of the pet checking system at ports.”
Michael Ward, interim chief executive of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), said: “This year our inspectors, working with the police and councils, rescued hundreds of puppies and breeding dogs being kept in miserable, squalid conditions by heartless people cashing in on the growing market for puppies.
“We hope these proposed licensing conditions for England will improve the welfare of puppies and their parents and also crackdown on the multi-million pound illegal trade making it less likely that people are duped by rogue dealers.”
Yvonne Moult, 47, from Mansfield, a Kennel Club Assured Breeder, said she hoped the new legislation would put the wealth of disreputable websites out of business.
“Something has got to give, it’s been going on too long,” she said.
“These people are just out to make a quick buck, they don’t care about breeding standards, where the dogs are going or what happens to them.”
The announcement comes just a fortnight after MPs called for the introduction of Lucy’s Law, to ban the sale of puppies without their mother being present, in order to end the suffering of tens of thousands of dogs across the country.
The campaign was named after a cavalier spaniel called Lucy who was rescued from a Welsh puppy farm in 2013 with a curved spine from being kept in a cramped cage, epilepsy and other problems. Despite being nursed back to health she died last year.
Dogs Trust said the internet had become a “thriving marketplace” for puppies, which were readily available via the internet at the click of a button.
Many are bred in Central and Eastern Europe before being smuggled to the UK with fake pet passports. The illegal trade is particularly prevalent in November and December as many are bred specifically for the Christmas market.
The puppies are mass produced in farms where they can be separated from their mothers too early before being sold via petshops, newspaper adverts, websites and private dealers.
They often die soon after reaching their new home or need expensive treatment for health and behavioural problems.
The RSPCA has seen a 132 per cent rise in the number of complaints it has received about the trade.
The charity says it has uncovered criminal gangs making up to £35,000 (Dh171,717) a week by selling fashionable breeds and designer crossbreeds.
Just last month the charity intercepted a shipment of seven puppies being smuggled through Fishguard Port, in Wales, in two crates in the boot of a car.
May said: “Any unscrupulous mistreatment of animals is disturbing – so in our drive to achieve the highest animal welfare standards in the world, we continually look at what more can be done.
“The arrival of a happy, healthy puppy, as I know myself, is a memorable time for a family – but it’s absolutely right we do everything we can to eradicate animal cruelty from our society. The proposals my government is developing will be an important step forward.”
Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, said: “At this time of year it is all too easy to be moved by images online or adverts in the local press advertising newborn puppies looking for a home for Christmas.
“But what we don’t see is all too often a sad history of mistreatment and malpractice. That is why we are looking at how we can go further to crack down on unscrupulous breeders so pet owners will have no doubt their new dogs have had the right start in life.”
The Government has also pledged to tackle the sale of puppies that are under two months old, the breeding of dogs with severe genetic disorders that require expensive veterinary treatment.