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.

Cruella De Ville''s version of a pet shop.

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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25 comments

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    • Gael says:

      06:33am | 17/03/10

      Thank you for highlighting this Rhiannon =o]  Something should have been done years ago out the problems of puppy farming.  That’s why I only go to Registered Ethical dog breeders, unless I’ve rescued a dog of course.  But I refuse to buy from any pet stores that sell animals - there are better alternatives!

    • Patty says:

      08:30am | 17/03/10

      That’s why pet-chains can’t provide details - because they all come from puppy farms. Registered breeders can’t sell to pet stores.

      Only buy from a registered breeder or the RSPCA. With more than 70,000 dogs put down each year, why buy from a pet store?

      Animals sold in pet stores should be banned.

    • Anna says:

      11:14am | 17/03/10

      Strongly agree.

    • cats says:

      10:13pm | 17/03/10

      Completely agree. There is no reason for dogs and cats to be sold in pet stores. It needs to be made illegal.

    • Katherine says:

      10:11am | 18/03/10

      Or buy a dog from one of the many rescue shelters around, who save dogs who would otherwise be euthanised. Pets Haven (http://www.petshaven.com.au) is a great example. They save dogs & cats from pounds who would otherwise be euthanise and desex them, microchip and adopt them out to loving homes. Please people, do not buy from pet stores because you are fuelling Puppy Farms. If the legislation won’t keep up, if there is no demand, puppy farms will cease to exist.

    • Kate Southam says:

      08:42am | 17/03/10

      Great article Rhiannon. I just went out to the pound at Blacktown in Sydney’s West last night to visit a puppy someone dumped outside my apartment on Sunday night. Hopefully we have found her a home. We have lots of puppies and unwanted dogs in pounds and RSPCA shelters and some will be put down. Why do we need “puppy farms” at all? It would be fantastic to see some actual gutsy leadership from government on this with strict licencing for breeders restricting numbers and guaranteeing humane conditions and rest periods for female dogs. Let’s get rid of puppy farms and it is also time to ban puppy and kitten sales from pet stores altogether!

    • Justin says:

      09:01am | 17/03/10

      It is consumer driven. Everyone is horrified by the practice, yet every weekend I see potential adoptees walk out baulking at the cost of adopting an animal.

      What scares me more than anything is those same people are going to go to a pet shop, get an animal from a puppy farm, and then most likely not do the things that drives the price of adoption up. That is to say: microchipping, desexing and vaccination. It’s impossible to compare the cost of responsible pet ownership with those insistent on dodging any form of responsibility.

    • Anna says:

      11:25am | 17/03/10

      When I adopted my cat I could understand why someone would choose to not get a dog from the RSPCA - most of the time they are mutts who you will have no idea how they’ve been trained, what their real breed/temperament is, and often they are not puppies - limiting training. Sure they could buy the “staffy” x (crossed with what?!) for $200 at 6 months old that will dig and chew and be difficult to train, or they could go somewhere else and get a very easily trainable, younger puppy that they know the breeding of.
      People don’t just want “a dog” they want a companion, and not all dogs are equal. That being said I don’t see why people buy puppies from pet stores, it seems so clinical and you don’t get to meet the mother and father.

    • Justin says:

      11:47am | 17/03/10

      Anna I have to disagree. Dogs can be trained from any age. It may be a touch more difficult in a senior dog, but the difference between a 6 month old dog and a 3 month old dog is negligible. Behavioural assessments are a requirement on all dogs over four months, and with dedicated areas to get to know the potential animal before making a decision, theres a lot better indication of temperment than the sign at the pet shop that could be false or misleading anyway.

      And again, this ignores the cost of responsible pet ownership. The cost of adopting from the RSPCA for the Staffy X (And if it’s an animal rescued from the pound or dumped, how do you expect them to know with what, they can only take a best guess.) will save you money compared to if you were to go to a pet shop, buy a dog, then go get it desexed, get it microchipped, get it vaccinated etc (Which by the way, is the reason dogs and kittens from the RSPCA are usually slightly older, you can’t desex a four week old puppy.)

    • AFR says:

      01:29pm | 17/03/10

      So Anna, you’d prefer animals to be put down, just so you can have a “companion” that will fetch and roll over on command?

    • Anna says:

      03:30pm | 17/03/10

      Justin, I’ve seen a lot of ads up at pet shops that include pre-paid visits to the vets for microchipping and vaccination. Not that that makes them any better! But I still don’t understand why a person who buys a $600 breed from the pet store is somehow less responsible than someone who buys a $200 mutt?

      And at the RSPCA I actually didn’t see a lot of puppies, I mostly saw much older dogs. You go there and you feel a bit guilty that you do want a puppy, and you don’t want to ‘rescue’ Mr Sparkles who is 6 and who barked too much for his last owner.

      I don’t expect them to know what it is mixed with, my point is that they can’t know!

      AFR, nice strawman but you will have to do better. Having a dog you didn’t enjoy spending time with would defeat the purpose of owning one. If humans weren’t constantly selecting dogs by their potential for following orders and other things, domestic breeds wouldn’t even exist!  By not buying a dog I don’t want I am not “putting it down”.

    • Mr Pastry says:

      04:05pm | 17/03/10

      Anna - your worry about breed/temperament can be solved by getting a dog from one of the euthanasia rescue societies (e.g. SAFE) these dogs are fostered into homes while they await adoption and therefore a complete and accurate report on temperament and behaviour can be given, which is much more than a breeder/pet shop can give.  I have always had rescue dogs, none of them would have been my ideal breed but all have been absolute joys.  Sure they are not the fashion statement that many require but if you are getting a dog for any reason other than companionship - maybe some gold jewelry would be nore suitable.

    • Vicki PS says:

      07:46pm | 17/03/10

      Not all pet shops are created equal, and not all rescue animals come from the RSPCA.  In Queensland, the Animal Welfare League has an arrangement with several pet stores, who sell only rescue puppies and dogs obtained through AWL. 

      Regarding price, pet stores in Queensland charge around $400 up for a puppy of unknown provenance, so adopting a rescue animal is not a more expensive alternative. And as far as I know, microchipping is compulsory now when a dog is sold.

      @Anna, I have to say that claiming that a puppy is going to be easily trainable simply because you’ve seen the parents is commercial breeder hype.  I’ve had quite a few dogs in my life, and I’ve yet to see convincing evidence that an overbred pedigreed dog is necessarily any better a companion than a carefully chosen mutt.  Hybrid vigour is a wonderful thing!  What’s more, one of the most unpleasant experiences I’ve had was obtaining a purebred pup from a supposedly reputable breeder (a former executive member of the CCC): the conditions at this person’s kennel were awful, down to carcases of pups left to rot in the mud.

      With an older animal, what you see is what you get.  Our family very recently adopted a 2 year old dog described as a Jack Russell X from our local pound, under an arrangement they have with the Animal Welfare League.  For a mere $210, we have a health-checked, vaccinated, wormed, desexed, microchipped and Council registered friend for life.

    • cats says:

      10:26pm | 17/03/10

      Sorry Anna but you don’t know anything about dogs. RSPCA dogs go through training before being put up for adoption. If they don’t respond well in certain situations, they are put down. And who cares what the “real breed” is (yeah real breed, that would be the wolf then?). People who love dogs don’t care. Only people who want fashion accessories care. Lol, puppies don’t chew? ALL dogs chew until they are 1 or more. It’s up the the owners to give them sufficient things to chew. And you can’t stop a dog from digging!

    • Dog Guy says:

      05:55pm | 01/04/10

      Anna, you are the typical ill-informed yet surprisingly opinionated poster who pops up whenever these sorts of stories make the press. Pretending to be concerned about animals, but in actual fact you have done zero research and you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about (but you clearly don’t let that stop you). According to you an RSPCA shelter is apparently the only place to find a rescue dog (really?). According to you all rescues are mixed breed mutts with temperament problems (according to whom?).
      +80% of rescue groups who save dogs and cats from euthanasia at impound facilities operate on a foster-care model (ie they don’t have a shelter of their own). Generous people offer their homes to temporarily care for these animals until they can be permanently rehomed.  This means that the dogs rescue groups offer for adoption have been temperament tested, desexed, vaccinated and the foster carer can tell you exactly what that dog is like with kids, other dogs, cats, whether he/she barks, is energetic, chews anything, is house-trained. In other words 10 times more information than the precious pet-shop puppy you espouse as being ideal. The ignorance you’re spreading helps worsen the situation for these poor animals you claim to feel empathy for.

    • Rhiannon says:

      09:18am | 17/03/10

      This is a good point. Sydney mayor Clover Moore has been campaigning to get live animals banned from pet stores for years, but it keeps getting rejected by both the NSW government and the opposition.

    • Matt says:

      09:28am | 17/03/10

      Wow, I had no idea people would do such a thing, and be getting away with it.  Good article.  Surely it wouldn’t be that hard to stop this practice as well – all breeders should be registered and meet RSPCA standards, all dogs sold should come with a record of where they came from, and all dog sales outside of these 2 rules should be illegal.

    • Corynne says:

      09:32am | 17/03/10

      I actually didn’t know this existed until a few months ago when my friend told me about them. I was disgusted to hear about the apalling conditions of puppy farms- how can any human do this to an animal? If the government wont shut them down then we need to find a way to educate the public to make the right choices when buying a pet. Keep spreading the word!

    • S says:

      09:45am | 17/03/10

      It’s a good point you raise about the condition of pet shops. I have a beautiful dog from a pet shop - despite being anti-puppy farm ourselves, we bought her as the world’s most expensive rescue dog. Another 48 hours in there and she would have died - but I digress.
      She’s now a year old but still has a pathological distrust/dislike of small children. I could never work out why but recently have come to think it was the 4 weeks she spent in the pet shop with thousands of little kids banging on the glass.
      While I’ll never buy another dog from a pet shop again, I have no regrets about buying this one, she’s a fantastic little dog.

    • Kirsten says:

      10:25am | 17/03/10

      There was a documentary on ABC a while ago about Crufts, breeders of pure breed dogs and how dog “standards” are contributing to unhealthy dogs.
      We have these sorts of licenced breeders here in Australia too.
      Just because a dog is from a registered breeder does not make it a better choice.
      One other thought, most pet shops are central therefore more accessable than most pounds, so instead of saying that no pets can be sold at pet shops, why not have some sort of program where pet shops can only sell animals from the RSPCA, pound or a pet shelter?

    • Trish says:

      01:25pm | 17/03/10

      My Daughter worked for a time for a well known pet shop franchise…every puppy was from a puppy farm…she bought one of the puppies she fell in love with…he is a beaut pup…we thought he was a full breed jack russell…but he’s a cross jack russell/foxy…nothing wrong with this mix…hes very smart…but the pet shop had so many puppies that they often got mixed up with what breed they actually were…and every puppy ended up with the runs because of stress and changing diets…there are so many dogs at pounds who would love a loving home…and i agree with Justin..you can train a dog at any age with love and patience…my dog came from the pound and as rough looking as he is, he’s the best dog i’ve owned and i’m sure its because he knows i “saved” him :o)

    • Chrissy says:

      01:23pm | 17/03/10

      Pet shops should be banned from selling puppies and kittens. Why would you pay up to $1200 for a mixed breed from a pet shop with no idea about the parents when you can buy a mixed breed from the RSPCA for around $200? I think that desexing your animal should be compulsory just the same as micro-chipping is. Then we wouldn’t have puppy farms or backyard breeders.

    • Helen says:

      02:59pm | 17/03/10

      Rhiannon. GOOD.ON.YOU.

      The problem of overbreeding pet animals just never seems to go away, but it seems to me that a lot fewer green needles would be administered and there would be a lot less suffering if these places could be shut down.

      Maggie the Lost Dogs Home dog and Ollie the rehomed country dog salute you!

    • Danielle says:

      03:30pm | 17/03/10

      What a great article and i thankyou for putting this subject back out there. I have seen a few programs on this subject and it’s so hard to watch these beautiful animals being treated this way. I think it’s about time the government took issues like this more seriously.

      Well done again Rhiannon, we need more people like you bringing this to people’s attention.smile

    • Paul Archer says:

      09:51pm | 31/03/10

      Thank you Rhiannon for a very well written article that highlights the issues. Many people will make better quality decisions about where to get their pets, if they are given the right information. Many of the public have no idea what is going on, which is why articles like this are so important. We kill over 250,000 healthy cats and dogs a year in Australia - FOUR times the per head rate than the UK. Its a disgrace and we should be ashamed. We all need to stand up and shout about this.

      If readers are interested, there are a number of sites they can go to for more information and ideas to get involved in spreading the message;

      http://www.deathrowpets.net
      http://www.givepetsachance.org.au
      http://www.wheredopuppiescomefrom.com.au
      http://companionanimalnews.wordpress.com

 

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