The Age, Heather Neil, August 8 2010
Every election begins as a race to become the campaign’s self-declared underdog, as to whether this gives any party a psychological upper-hand is yet to be determined. In our eyes there is only one underdog, in the true sense of the term.
This underdog has four legs and a tail. She is used as a breeding machine and her offspring are sold to satisfy demand for cute puppies in the pet retail market. This underdog is one of thousands bred indiscriminately in Australia’s puppy farm industry.
Think of a battery cage, put a dog in there and that’s essentially what I’m talking about. Puppy farmers will sell to anyone – through pet shops, online, through newspapers, at markets and even out of car boots. The advent of internet sales has fueled this industry.
Fixing the problem is an uphill battle for the RSPCA because no matter how inappropriate we find these establishments, the law by and large allows them to operate. This is the great irony of being the RSPCA. Our inspectors spend their days enforcing laws that we rarely think go far enough to adequately protect the health and welfare of breeding dogs or their puppies.
One of our more recent cases near Sydney really knocked the wind out of everyone who attended. The stench from this puppy farm was so overwhelming that we had to bring in industrial-sized fans and wear breathing equipment. The ammonia build was so great it literally left you breathless – yet animals were living and breeding in these conditions for their entire lives. One dog was in a cardboard box with a number of puppies dead around her. She still had a pup lodged in her birth canal and had been in labour for more than six hours. Two other pups had been tied together with electrical cable, one of them suffocated to death. Perched on a cluttered cabinet above was a malnourished cat and her newborn kittens. These creatures were destined for the pet retail market where they were being sold to an unsuspecting public — 190 were rescued, many were pregnant and sadly, some were beyond saving.
It would be nice to be able to say that this seizure was an isolated incident. But the puppy farming industry is booming and is one of the greatest animal welfare challenges the RSPCA faces. Politically it should be an easy sell and it is actually a relatively easy fix. We need enforceable regulation of the breeding and selling of dogs. We need local governments to make puppy breeders meet high standards and enforce these standards properly. We need the Commonwealth to tighten up export provisions for the sale of dogs overseas and for the Australian Tax Office to report suspected puppy farmers.
We are a nation of dog lovers and this election gives us another chance to show it. Make your vote count for the real underdogs this election by becoming a Political Animal and ask your local federal representatives to do the same.
Heather Neil is chief executive of RSPCA Australia.