Harsh lights illuminate a corridor of small, wired kennels stacked upon one another. Puppies of countless breeds are crammed into each kennel. They frantically bark and beg for attention. The barks and whimpers don’t resemble excitement. They are sounds of despair.
This confronting scenario is what life is like for dogs who are forced to live and breed in puppy farms.
Puppy farming is a pressing global issue, with an urgent need for prevention gaining traction in WA. On August 18 this year, the McGowan government’s Stop Puppy Farming Legislation passed the lower house. The new laws plan to prevent cruelty and harm towards dogs and help families ensure their pets have come from ethical sources.
Without these laws in place in WA, dog breeding is completely unregulated with anyone being able to breed as many puppies as they want. Despite the proposed laws, many people believe more awareness and ongoing education is required to confront the issue. Those involved in the welfare of dogs are ensuring more will be done to maintain their safety.
According to the Pet Industry Association of Australia, around 450,000 puppies are sold in Australia every year. However, only 15 per cent of those puppies are sold through registered breeders.
One of the people strongly committed to bringing an end to cruelty against dogs is Dogs’ Refuge Home chief executive Karen Rhodes.
Rhodes became involved in the Dogs’ Refuge Home in Shenton Park after adopting one of its long-term residents. She’s now been there for three years.
Rhodes says puppy farming is horrific. She says parents are generally kept in concrete bunkers, with very little human contact, until they can’t breed anymore, and then they’re killed.
“Best case scenario is it ends up somewhere like here, and worst-case scenario, it becomes one of the statistics of the thousands of dogs euthanised every year.”Dogs’ Refuge Home chief executive Karen Rhodes
“The puppies are weaned off at six, seven weeks of age, and often shipped over from the eastern states,” she says. “They’re taken away from their mums’ way too young. Then when they get here, they’re shipped to different pet shops.”
Rhodes says in some pet shops, puppies are left in glass containers with kids going past all day tapping on them, and parents making impulse purchases not considered decisions.
“They haven’t thought about training the puppy. They haven’t thought about enrichment,” she says.
“Best case scenario is it ends up somewhere like here, and worst-case scenario, it becomes one of the statistics of the thousands of dogs euthanised every year.”
According to a research article published in the Australian Animal Protection Law Journal, the total number of companion animals needing a home constantly outweighs the number of households willing to take them.
Another study published in the Special Issue of Animal Sheltering, found more than 200,000 stray and surrendered dogs are admitted to animal welfare shelters and animal facilities in Australia annually, and 20 per cent of those are euthanised.
A key factor of the Stop Puppy Farming project is the slogan ‘Adopt Don’t Shop’. Western Australians are being urged to give rescue dogs a chance. The State Government provides annual funding to shelters and animal rescue organisations to support the rescue and rehoming of dogs.
Under the Stop Puppy Farming Legislation, there are a number of proposed changes with one being for pet shops to work with rescue organisations in order to transition into adoption centres. This will provide more adoption opportunities for unwanted dogs.
The significance of the legislation
Maylands MLA and puppy farming working group chair Lisa Baker says the WA Stop Puppy Farming Legislation is an incredibly important movement as puppies and dogs have been suffering this type of cruelty for far too long.
“I was probably going to have to quit if the legislation wasn’t passed,” she says. “It’s critical that it was passed, because it’s what the public of Western Australia want.”
According to the WA Government’s 2018 Stop Puppy Farming Consultation Report, 93 per cent of Western Australians supported mandatory standards for dog breeding. Mandatory de-sexing was supported by 77 per cent of respondents, 83 per cent supported a centralised registration system to enable dogs to be traced, and 91 per cent of respondents agreed there should be restrictions placed on dog breeders.
Baker says the Stop Puppy Farming Bill has come from eight years of work to identify best practice.
Puppy farms and overbreeding represent a major animal welfare issue in Australia, with a number of states introducing new legislation to combat them. Many are implementing similar laws to Victoria’s puppy farm laws enacted in July 2018, commonly known as Oscar’s Law.
What else is being done in Australia?
In February this year, Oscar’s Law began its most recent campaign against a proposed puppy farm in the NSW town, Moama. In a week, the petition against the puppy farm gained almost 30,000 signatures.
Despite the campaign, by May of this year, the controversial puppy farm was approved.
In Australia, efforts began in 2010 to stop puppy farming when more than 1,000 people surrounded Parliament House in Melbourne, advocating for Oscar’s Law.
“We’ve successfully passed legislation in Victoria, and we’re putting the pressure on all other state governments now. But that’s not us doing it, that’s just us providing the community the tools they need to go and do it.”Founder of Oscar’s Law Debra Tranter
Founder of Oscar’s Law Debra Tranter has been investigating puppy factories around Australia since 1994. “I triggered the founding of Oscar’s Law to get other people involved in putting political pressure on their local communities to change the law,” she says. “I realised the law was there to protect the commercial interests of puppy farmers, rather than protect animal welfare.”
Tranter says previous to Oscar’s Law, she was focusing on the negative side by showing the public graphic photos of the cruelty that exists in puppy factories.
“Oscar’s Law is all about educating the public, but also empowering them,” she says.
“We’ve successfully passed legislation in Victoria, and we’re putting the pressure on all other state governments now. But that’s not us doing it, that’s just us providing the community the tools they need to go and do it.”
Tranter says the WA government was pressured by WA people to look at this issue and review the legislation. “When we were on the roundtable we were really pushing for the WA government to introduce limits on the number of dogs that are allowed to be kept,” she says. “In WA, it will be legal to have an unlimited number of dogs, so that’s really disappointing.”
Tranter says campaigners also wanted a cap on litters. In Victoria, a dog can only have five litters, and then it has to be desexed, retired, and rehomed. However, the WA legislation didn’t bring that in.
Current limitations on the numbers of adult dogs that can be kept without a kennel licence are not enough to prevent puppy farming. Dog breeders can hide their operations and continue to breed irresponsibly. The government is proposing to introduce mandatory dog breeder approval to manage the number of dogs being bred.
“In a way, I am really not cut out to be a breeder. It’s not a business for me. It’s definitely a labour of love,” she says.Dog breeder and owner of Moogi Labradoodles Joanne Hughes
Ethical and responsible breeding
According to researcher Simone Anita Blackman, as societal values shift, with a number of people viewing their companion animals as part of the family, regulations on breeding continue to tighten.
Busselton dog breeder and owner of Moogi Labradoodles Joanne Hughes has run her breeding business since February 2016. She has a number of rules and regulations in place to ensure her puppies are being sent to the best homes possible.
“In a way, I am really not cut out to be a breeder. It’s not a business for me. It’s definitely a labour of love,” she says.
Hughes says before breeding, she starts with health testing the parents. They are then registered by the Australian Labradoodle Association. “It’s a sign of your commitment to bettering the breed and producing healthy, loving puppies,” she says. “At the end of the day, nobody wants a puppy to spend a life of illness and pain because they’ve been badly bred.”
Hughes sends out an application form to each potential buyer which asks several questions about how they envisage caring for the dog.
She also has each buyer sign an agreement. “They are signing the agreement to promise they will feed the dog good quality food, they will give it veterinary attention when necessary, and they will return it to me if it needs rehoming,” she says.
According to a review article published in Reproduction in Domestic Animals, the overproduction of certain animals can lead to crowded animal shelters and euthanasia, killing millions of dogs every year.
As a result, regulations on overbreeding and illegal imports have been introduced in Western countries, however, puppy farming is not yet under control. The lack of regulation on trading pedigree dogs is of increasing concern.
Dogs West is the largest representative body of dog owners in WA and works to promote responsible dog breeding and ownership. Dogs West president Pamela Campbell says Dogs West members have hundreds of pages of rules and regulations they must abide by. Their constitution is all about looking after the welfare of dogs and protecting purebred dogs.
“MLA Lisa Baker has recognised Dogs West as being the gold standard when it comes to breeding dogs,” she says. “A lot of the things we’ve already been doing for many years, and our members must abide by, will now become part of the legislation.”
More work needs to be done
Animal Justice Party WA state convenor Michael Anagno says the Animal Justice Party would like to see a national register, so there will be better oversight of where animals across the country have come from. “It will be easier to trace them to potential puppy farms and to be able to track them down,” he says.
Karen Rhodes says education will be the main way to tackle the issue of puppy farming. “In the UK, they don’t sell puppies in pet shops,” she says.
In 2018, Britain banned the third-party sales of puppies and kittens in pet shops to protect animal welfare.
“If people realise the conditions dogs are kept in, and there is more awareness, you will never go and buy from a pet shop again,” Rhodes says.
“We’ve just got to do the right thing by these animals who give us such unconditional love and deserve to be treated the way they treat us.”
Lisa Baker says there will now be two draft regulations that sit under the bill, and they will go into detail exactly how the legislation will play out around WA.
“Is it going to stop puppy farming 100 per cent? Absolutely not. I could never guarantee that,” she says.
“But what this will do is send an extremely strong message to the community that we are cracking down on this, and we do want to stop it.”