The below conversation took place in the Welsh Assembly – they have oral questions to Ministers during plenary and the Kennel Club had met with Assembly Members (AMs) a few weeks before, including Trish Law, where they asked her if she could raise the issue via an oral questions. Other AMs are then allowed to follow up on it:
Trish Law: Will the Minister make a statement on what the Welsh Assembly Government is doing to protect the welfare of dogs born in puppy farms? OAQ(3)0817(RAF)
Elin Jones: Wales has led the UK in producing a code of practice for the welfare of dogs. Through the companion animal welfare enhancement scheme, we are actively funding special projects by local authorities to examine the dog breeding licensing process and scope as well as the internet selling of pets.
Trish Law: Some puppy farms, particularly in Carmarthenshire, keep dogs in cruel and filthy conditions, but these puppies could end up in any pet shop in Wales.
While I welcome the companion animal welfare enhancement scheme and the local authority licensing scheme, I believe that tighter regulation of breeding is urgently needed.
The Breeding of Dogs Act 1973 seeks to prohibit the worst aspects of puppy farming, but the extent to which it is enforced varies significantly from area to area, and I am worried that policing both schemes that I have referred to is the responsibility of local authorities, which are being forced to make swingeing budget cuts, and animal welfare may well be lower on the priority list than other council services.
Will you throw your weight behind the Kennel Club campaign to introduce pet vending regulations under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which would prohibit the sale of puppies in pet shops, thereby denying disreputable breeders the main outlet for their dishonourable trade?
Elin Jones: I acknowledge that there is a great deal of public concern about the breeding of puppies. As I said, the companion animal welfare enhancement scheme, in its operation in three counties in west Wales, will provide me with advice on the current situation as it is seen and on potential improvements that could be made to regulations or to enforcement. I hope to receive that evidence in the next few weeks.
I met yesterday with the Dogs Trust, and we discussed the compulsory microchipping of dogs—I seem to be compulsorily microchipping every animal in Wales at present.
I am interested in pursuing that in relation to dogs, and Lorraine Barrett held a short debate a few months ago on this issue. I have sought legal advice on the powers available to me with regard to compulsory microchipping, and I will make a commitment to you to seek advice on powers available to me with regard to the Kennel Club initiative, which I had not come across until you mentioned it in your question.
Lorraine Barrett: I also had a meeting with the Dogs Trust. I have been doing some work with it, as has my colleague Joyce Watson, on the sale of puppies and dogs—but mostly puppies—to raise awareness among members of the public so that they think about where the fluffy, beautiful little thing that they see in a shop window comes from.
It is not as much of an issue in Wales as it is in England, I understand. Perhaps we could pave the way and look at prohibiting the sale of puppies in pet shops.
That would send a strong message to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which is hesitating a bit on the issue. I welcome your statement and I ask you to keep this issue on the agenda, along with microchipping.
The event that we held the other week with the chip van outside the Assembly, which Joyce Watson had arranged, was successful, and we had our photograph taken with a nice puppy.
Elin Jones: You are right to say that raising awareness among potential purchasers of puppies is key to ensuring that the breeding of those puppies is done in such a way that the purchasers have confidence that what they are buying in any outlet is a healthy, well-bred puppy.
It is also true that the majority of puppies that are bred in Wales are probably not sold in Wales and therefore, any banning of the sale of puppies from retail outlets in Wales may not have the desired outcome that you and Trish have expressed.
However, I am committed to working further on this, and I am interested in the views that Assembly Members have on how that could be progressed. I will report back when I have received further evidence and advice on this area of work.
Angela Burns: My view is simple: we need to license them and license them to bits. This is not about being dramatic and soft-hearted over little puppies; it is about cruelty to animals.
There is a puppy farm just up the road from me. You know where I live, and I am not going to say where that is because it would be unfair to the farm.
I am led to understand that that puppy farm is run exactly as the county council says it should be run, and yet it is nowhere near the standard that the Kennel Club says it should be.
In the years in which I have been there, the breeding bitches have never once been outside to enjoy a modicum of freedom. As you know, Minister, dogs need socialisation and must not be separated too early after birth and so on.
I would like to push for you to regulate tightly and ensure that all puppy farms adopt the Kennel Club standards as an absolute minimum.
My final point is that, in Carmarthenshire, we have 84 licensed breeders, of which only four meet the Kennel Club’s better standards. That is an enormous difference, and then there are the unlicensed breeders, for which Carmarthenshire, sadly, is a bit of a hotbed.
Elin Jones: I am glad to see that there is a degree of cross-party consensus in the Chamber this afternoon on the need to improve the current situation.
The code of practice for the welfare of dogs is now part of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and can be used by any enforcement agency as part of a prosecution of any dog owner or owner of a breeding establishment.
The code refers to some of the issues that you raised, such as the socialisation and exercise of dogs. Any dog breeding establishment in Wales needs to comply with that code of practice.
The Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats (Kirsty Williams): Minister, I would like to add to the all-party consensus on this issue this afternoon.
Do you agree that dog breeding is a legitimate exercise as long as it is done to the highest standards that protect the health of both the breeding bitches and the puppies?
That is the only way that can we ensure that the puppies sold to customers are in the best of health and able to give the purchasing family a lifetime of enjoyment and companionship.
What can you do to ensure that local authorities use the powers that they currently have to monitor these breeding activities to a standard that would be acceptable to everyone in the Chamber?
Would you agree with me that, given the steps that you have taken to pursue animal welfare issues, further action on puppy farms could demonstrate to the rest of the UK the desire of the Welsh people to put animal welfare at the top of the agenda?
Elin Jones: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to agree with you that the breeding of puppies is an appropriate activity for any individual in Wales as long as it is done in a way that complies with regulations and with the code of practice for the welfare of dogs, which I referred to earlier.
It is a perfectly legitimate activity, if it is done properly. There may be people in this Chamber and there will be plenty of people elsewhere who are buying puppies for the first time and will want to do so in future, and they have to be bred somewhere.
However, they have to be bred appropriately, in a way that is good for the welfare of the individual dogs.
On the monitoring of current breeding establishments, licensed or unlicensed, I hope that the local authorities in west Wales, when they report to me through the companion animal welfare scheme later this year, will be able to identify any particular enforcement problems in this field and any changes that they would like to propose for the Government or for themselves to undertake.