The dark side of cute: the truth about puppy farms
There’s something about being in the presence of puppies that can make grown adults a bit soft in the head. You know the sort. The ones who let out cries of “Hurro puppeee! Aren’t you adowable?! Yesh you are! Yesh you are!” as soon as they enter the vicinity of any small, wet-nosed creatures.
Most dog lovers would agree: puppies are adorable, and they’re everywhere. Our parks are full of them. Suburban cafes put out water bowls for their furry guests.
We have doggie day care, puppy primping, specialist clothing, gourmet pet food. There’s a whole, thriving industry tied to our love of four-legged friends.
That’s what makes the darker side of puppy culture so confusing. So much visible love for our companion animals and yet puppy farming still exists. Puppy farming, the practice of mass, indiscriminate breeding in terrible conditions for the purposes of trade, is an idea so diabolical it could have been hatched by Cruella De Ville.
Unfortunately puppy farms are not part of some fantastical Disney plot with the promise of good triumphing over evil. They’re real. And if you’ve bought a pet in Australia without knowing its history, you could be fuelling them.
Conditions can vary, but puppy farms are generally described as unhygienic, restrictive, overcrowded and often with insufficient food and sanitation. Breeding animals are kept in constant cycles of pregnancy.
Just a few weeks ago, one Victorian property raided by the RSPCA reportedly found crowded pens full of dog faeces and animal carcasses lying on the ground. A NSW case from 2008 reported 190 dogs in a “putrid smelling, almost intoxicating environment”. In Queensland, up to 12 similar cases have been investigated in the last two years. The RSPCA has said the laws binding animal care makes investigation difficult and prosecution a long, often fruitless process.
There are respectable dog breeders in Australia - hundreds of them. Puppy farms are merely the worst operators, the lowest form of breeder, who care little for the treatment of animals and have their eyes focused firmly on profits.
Who are they selling to? The RSPCA suggests pet stores, along with direct sales over the internet and through newspapers, are part of problem. My local pet store on the weekend is full of parents and their children, young couples, teenagers. It attracts hundreds of shoppers caught by the “aw” factor of cute, squidgy animals. Their glass allotments seem pitifully small, and the constant poke of small fingers would wear down even the most tolerant animal, but are they puppy farm products? It is very hard to tell.
Curious, I ask the shop assistant about their animal suppliers. She brings up puppy farms before I do, and swears she wouldn’t work there if she suspected they came from bad breeders. Can I get a list of their puppy breeders? No, that’s confidential information. So how can I be sure these animals haven’t come from a puppy farm? “You’ll just have to take my word for it,” I am told.
It’s not a very satisfying answer. It does, however, show there is an industry-wide consensus on one thing: puppy farms exist, and they are terrible places for young dogs to begin life. The RSPCA suggests not buying from any breeder who cannot provide a complete history of the animal. According to the ‘Smart Puppy Buyers Guide’ brochure, “It’s really important that you visit the puppy in the place where it was born and meet its mum”.
The RSPCA discussion paper, found on their website, is calling for support, information and ideas on how to stamp out the practice of puppy farming. If you have seen or heard anything dodgy in your local area, now is the time to speak up.
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