The Age; Gary Tippet, July 11, 2010
HOW much is that doggie in the window? The RSPCA says too much, considering it is probably a bitzer cleverly marketed as a designer dog.
It has probably come off a puppy factory production line and could be prone to a range of costly health and behavioural problems.
About 95 per cent of all puppies sold in pet shops have been bred in puppy factories or farms – large-scale, intensive dog-breeding facilities – and almost half all pet dogs in Australia started their lives in such conditions, the RSPCA claims.
The animal welfare body is launching a national campaign from next week calling for a consumer boycott of puppies and dogs sold from pet stores.
It also wants the community to avoid buying dogs through the internet and newspaper ads.
Allie Jalbert, RSPCA Victoria animal shelters manager, said most people who chose puppies from shops would be horrified to realise they were inadvertently supporting commercial-scale puppy farming. Breeding animals were often kept for their whole lives in pens or cages where minimum standards required only enough room to stand, turn around and lie down. They did not require dogs be socialised, bathed or exercised.
”People need to be mindful of where these puppies are coming from and the horrible conditions in which they are farmed,” she said. ”We want people to make the choice, pretty much by refusing to buy from these places, to put the industry out of business. It’s about highlighting the truth behind these animals in the pet shop windows.
”The public can end this industry by refusing to support it. Every pet shop puppy that’s purchased perpetuates this industry.”
But RSPCA president Dr Hugh Wirth admits that might be asking a lot. Research shows that buying animals from pet shops is increasingly popular: in 2003, 17 per cent of animals were bought from shops; over the past 12 months that figure has risen to 53 per cent. More disturbingly, only 37 per cent of the community has concerns about animals being sold in pet shops.
”People are not interested in the background of their puppies, not initially,” said Dr Wirth. ”What they’re anxious about is what they see. This is heart overruling mind: ‘There’s a beautiful little puppy!’ … Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter what the breed, all puppies are adorable – and that’s the most important factor, you are drawn to the puppy.
”It’s only later [they realise], when they have to come along to a vet like me and I’ve got to break the news to them of what’s wrong with that puppy.”
Ms Jalbert said vets and shelters were seeing constant problems with chronically ill or genetically flawed dogs from puppy factories. Lack of social interaction and handling and learned behaviour from mothers made fearful by constant confinement also led to behavioural problems later in a puppy’s life, she said.
”The consumer and the animals are the ones suffering while these people who run the factories are cashing in,” she said.
But Roger Perkins, CEO of the Pet Industry Association of Australia, disputed the RSPCA figures. There were about 3.7 million dogs in Australia, but only 10 per cent of dogs were sold through pet shops, he said.
”Nine in 10 people who buy a dog do not buy it from a pet shop, but from animal shelters such as the RSPCA or on the internet or from newspaper ads.”
Mr Perkins said many pet shops chose not to sell dogs or cats, but nonetheless they ”jolly well should” be allowed to.
”Our view is that it is a far more regulated way to purchase a pet than online or through newspaper ads.
”We support absolutely the RSPCA in terms of the abhorrent conditions in which some animals come out of puppy farms. Like anyone else with any humane interest in the welfare of animals, we abhor that situation,” he said.
”But there are plenty of very successful puppy farms that ethically breed animals in a controlled environment, where the welfare of the animal is extraordinarily well protected.
”But like any industry, there are some rogues and they’re the people we will not support.”
A spokesman for state Agriculture Minister Joe Helper said Victoria already had tough laws to regulate animal breeding and protect the welfare of animals, but the government understood concerns about puppy farms.
”We will consult with the RSPCA and local councils to review enforcement of existing legislation, review codes of practice, and investigate further measures to stamp out puppy farms and encourage responsible breeding,” he said.
The government had not ruled out looking at further controls on pet shop sale of animals.
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