The Age; GARY TIPPET; July 18, 2010
AY hello – and goodbye – to Nobby, the beagle who has become the sad face and birth-battered body of the RSPCA’s new campaign against the factory-farming of puppies.
The RSPCA is using the image of Nobby – tagged with the bitter caption ‘Employee of the Month’ – on billboards and its website in its bid to close down intensive commercial production of puppies and to seek a ban on their sale from pet shops.
When this photograph was taken in 2004, Nobby was a breeding bitch on a puppy farm at Learmonth, near Ballarat, owned by Dr Ron Wells, the former Victorian MP and vet.
After raids and a campaign by anti-puppy factory activists, the business was closed in 2005 under a confidential agreement with Ballarat Council.
But Nobby was already dead.
Campaigner Debra Tranter, who took the photo during a raid on the property, said this week she remains haunted by the image. ”I was making plans to go back to rescue her when a staff member told me she had been put down.”
Ms Tranter said the beagle had spent her entire life in appalling conditions on the farm. Her mother was a breeding bitch and at birth Nobby was also selected for breeding. ”They used to choose some of the female puppies and put them aside to replace the older breeding females,” she said. ”As the older females were killed off, the younger puppies, at six or seven months of age, would replace them. Nobby was one of those.”
She said the dog’s swollen, sagging mammaries were evidence of her life as a production-line breeder.
”It’s through the constant, back-to-back breeding; their bodies just don’t have time to recover. After anything up to 10 litters in a short period of time it’s inevitable that happens.
”We’ve rescued dogs similar to Nobby, with their mammaries hanging on the ground, and the vets have had to remove entire flaps of skin and just sew it back together, almost like a tummy tuck, to stop that dragging in the dirt.”
Former staff have told the RSPCA that many of Nobby’s puppies, like others at the property, suffered from what they described as a bacterial ”flesh-eating disease”, believed to be streptococcus canis, or necrotising fasciitis, which causes large areas of skin and underlying fatty tissue die and peel away.
The puppies were either euthanased or lost limbs. At least one of them was secretly rescued by a staffer, though it lost half of a back leg. Called Trilogy, not only for it’s three legs but also because it was born on March 3, 2003, she is still alive and well.
Staff members said Nobby would grieve each time her puppies were removed: ”She was well known as the howler as every time her pups were taken from her, she would howl for days.
”A lot of the dogs do grieve every time they have a litter of puppies taken off them,” said Ms Tranter.
”The pups are not properly weaned; they’re taken straight off mum, put into the truck and driven to the pet shop. It’s this constant cycle of pregnancy or feeding puppies. There’s real psychological damage done to these dogs.”
RSPCA spokesman Tim Pilgrim said there could be no better image for the new campaign: “Nobby epitomises the hopelessness and deprivation associated with puppy factories.
”The image represents the continuous cycle of pregnancy into which so many of the animals in puppy factories are forced. The mothers have little rest or reprieve between litters and are used as breeding machines to churn out as many puppies as possible for sale in pet stores, online or in newspapers.”
Dr Wells did not return calls from The Sunday Age.