Dogs (Illegal Trade, Irresponsible Breeding and Adoption)
Speech in the Scottish Parliament debate

20 December 2017

David :

I congratulate Emma Harper on securing the debate and on all the work that she does on animal welfare.

The Dogs Trust was founded at Christmas in 1891, so it is particularly apt that we are having the debate on the day before the Parliament breaks for the Christmas recess.

Rona Mackay made a very good point at the end of her speech when she referred to the crucial aspect of animals being sentient beings, which means that we need to be very careful about their welfare.

At this time of year, when many families will be thinking about getting a puppy as a present for someone, it is vital that they have considered not only the responsibilities that they are taking on for life—Emma Harper made that point—but, as the Dogs Trust motto suggests, the ethics and standards of the person from whom they are purchasing the dog.

With puppy smuggling on the rise as well as the number of non-licensed shelters and private traders—a situation that is not helped by internet sales—the welfare of dogs and the legality of dog sales are huge issues.

There are approximately 8.5 million dogs in the UK.

Given that the average lifespan of a dog is 12 years, about 708,000 puppies are required each year to maintain that figure.

The Kennel Club tells us that it registers around 220,000 puppies each year, and rescue organisations rehome approximately 65,000 dogs each year, but very few of those are puppies.

There is, therefore, a shortfall of over 485,000 in the number of dogs required each year.

The Dogs Trust has carried out several investigations into puppy smuggling.

Despite the introduction of the pet travel scheme, which allows pet dogs to enter the UK without the need for quarantine provided that they comply with the rules of travel and have a valid pet passport, the Dogs Trust has found that puppies continue to be imported illegally into the UK.

On top of that, unlicensed breeders in the UK are better able to flourish than they were in the past thanks to the internet, where they can readily access a vast customer base.

Online sellers are harder to track and trace, and they exist in such high numbers that animal welfare organisations cannot keep on top of them all.

That is a problem across the sale of all kinds of pets, not only dogs.

In partnership with Blue Cross, OneKind and the Born Free Foundation, I have previously raised in Parliament the issues that surround the sale of exotic animals online.

Given the higher maintenance and welfare needs of those animals as well as the fact that many species are not suitable to be kept as pets, online sales of exotic animals from unregulated traders put many animals at risk of injury or death.

I will finish on some good advice from the Dogs Trust that will be particularly useful for anyone who has asked for a dog next week in their Christmas list.

There are a number of dos.

Always see the puppy interacting with its mother and siblings, and visit more than once: visits are your opportunity to ask everything about life with your new puppy—take it.

Before the puppy comes home, know what paperwork it should have and insist that it is available when you collect the puppy—never agree to paperwork being posted later.

Walk away if you are suspicious of the seller or breeder and report them immediately to trading standards; once you have taken the puppy, it is too late.

If the pup was advertised online and you have concerns, report the seller directly to the website where you viewed the advert.

Take your puppy to your own vet for a health check as soon as possible.

Finally, there are a few don’ts: don’t meet anywhere that is not the puppy’s home; don’t buy from anyone who can supply various breeds on demand; don’t buy puppies that look too small or underweight for their stated age; don’t feel pressurised into buying the puppy immediately—walk away if you have any concerns; and don’t buy a puppy that you suspect has been imported into the country illegally.

I thank Emma Harper again.

It is an excellent initiative that is being taken forward and I strongly support the work that she is carrying out.

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