Inspection reveals horrific truth of the state of some Irish puppy farms
Officials dispatched to inspect puppy farms found dogs kept in overcrowded conditions, with little exercise and not enough access to water, according to reports obtained by the Sunday Independent.
One dog breeding facility inspected last year was found to have more bitches than it was licensed to keep, and some dogs were being kept in kennels without water. There was no isolation facility for sick dogs or pest control to protect their food from contamination. No records were kept of the dogs about births, deaths, sale or movement, or the number of litters born to dogs.
Another dog breeding facility was found to have had too many dogs kept in kennels of "unsatisfactory" cleanliness, with inadequate ventilation and inadequate records. When it was inspected last June, inspectors found that the 68 dogs were "very overcrowded" and some had no access to the exercise area. The dogs, which included pugs, schnauzers and Maltese, were not all micro-chipped, and many were in need of grooming.
A follow-up inspection in August found that while the bitches were in "satisfactory condition" they were kept in kennel space "filled to capacity". Dogs were not getting daily exercise. "No toys or alternative methods to improve the dogs' environment and to alleviate boredom," the report said, even though inspectors flagged this at a previous check.
In March this year, inspectors visited another breeding establishment unannounced and found the 10 dogs were not micro-chipped and there was "a lot of faeces" in the sheds where they were kept.
Inspectors also noted that the sheds were cleaned out every two to three days, which was "unacceptable" as "faeces should be collected on a daily basis". The dog breeder was warned the kennels would be deregistered if conditions were not complied with.
Despite the concerns raised by inspectors, no enforcement action was taken against the puppy farms which instead were only subjected to closer monitoring.
A report on one premises, also inspected in March this year, noted that the breeder had not still complied with an improvement notice that was first served on it in 2013.
The detailed inspection reports were compiled by local authorities over the past two years and released to the Sunday Independent under the Freedom of Information Act, with identifies of the establishments redacted.
Some dog breeders were praised for complying with the conditions of their registration in the reports. However, the problems of overcrowding, inadequate record keeping, poor access to exercise, poor pest control and exceeding the quota of dogs they are registered to keep are recurring issues in dog breeding establishments across the country, according to the animal welfare groups.
This newspaper requested the inspection reports from local authorities and the Department of Agriculture to find out what they revealed about the state of Ireland's controversial puppy farms.
The response was mixed.
Monaghan County Council released the most comprehensive records, with detailed correspondence outlining the conditions inspectors found on dog breeders in its catchment area.
Local authorities such as Kerry, Laois and Louth, released less detailed inspection reports that found conditions at puppy farms to be largely up to scratch. Most local authorities that we contacted refused to release any records because they contained commercial or personal information.
The Department of Agriculture went one further, saying that it was not releasing the inspection reports because their owners could be targeted by animal rights activists.
It identified more than 60 inspection records that detail the conditions and standards on puppy farms in Meath, Kilkenny, Donegal, Limerick, Monaghan, Roscommon, Westmeath Cavan, Carlow, Laois, Wexford and Cork.
The department said it would not release them because "so-called puppy farms are the subject of significant opposition and campaigning from some welfare groups" and that "some animal welfare groups may consider it legitimate to target any named/identified puppy farms with direct action/protests". The department also cited "commercial" reasons.
Ireland has a reputation as being the puppy farm centre of Europe and the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA) claims that 30,000 puppies a year are exported to the UK, many illegally.
Puppy farms have been regulated by local authorities since the Dog Breeding Establishment Act was introduced in 2010, but animal welfare groups, including the ISPCA, has consistently raised concerns not only about the standards on puppy farms, but how rigorously they are being inspected.
The ISPCA has highlighted "inconsistencies" in the inspection process.
The rescue of more than 350 dogs and 11 horses that were kept in appalling conditions on a puppy farm in Myshall in Carlow last year prompted the then Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, to clamp down on puppy farms. The rescued dogs were mostly female breeds such as Cocker Spaniels, Yorkshire terriers, Bichon Frise crosses, Cavalier King Charles, and Shih Tzus, many with matted coats, chronic skin, eye and teeth problems, and some with untreated injuries.
The minister dispatched agriculture officials to conduct joint inspections with local authority vets of all registered puppy farms last summer.
Of the 68 registered puppy farms which have been inspected, informed veterinary sources said only a small number failed to meet standards.
The ISPCA has said the dog breeding legislation was enforced more stringently in some local authority areas than in others, and that unregistered dog breeders were still operating.
Dr Andrew Kelly, chief executive of the ISPCA, said the dog welfare guidelines were too vague and called for "more prescriptive standards" on how dogs should be treated.
He added that the ISPCA was working with the Department of Agriculture and local authorities to improve conditions.