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Society needs to curb its enthusiasm for designer dogs


Caged puppies filmed during an undercover investigation by the Channel 4 programme Dispatches

Caged puppies filmed during an undercover investigation by the Channel 4 programme Dispatches


Caged puppies filmed during an undercover investigation by the Channel 4 programme Dispatches

The results of the recent marriage referendum may indeed have placed this country at the forefront of global gay rights.

But we are also a brand leader in another international league table, one that should fill us with shame, rather than pride - the illegal puppy trade.

The news that authorities intercepted another consignment of contraband puppies being smuggled out of this country last Friday will come as further depressing proof that we are simply not doing enough to curb an illicit and immoral trade which, by its very nature, requires a sickening level of cruelty and neglect.

During Friday's operation, 11 pups were found in a woman's car and have since been transported to a pound run by Dogs Trust, where they will hopefully be able to find new homes.

Of course, in the light of other recent seizures of illegally bred dogs, 11 recovered animals is a mere drop in the ocean.

After all, the recent raid on a puppy farm in Carlow rescued more than 300 dogs, from the emaciated 'breed bitches' who are forced to spend their short, miserable existence (they have a life expectancy of only three years) in a state of permanent pregnancy, to the unfortunate litters of pups who faced the prospect of either being sold on or drowned.

Even that canine Carlow gulag pales into insignificance when you consider that 30,000 dogs are bred each year in this country, for both the export and domestic market, and that helps to explain why Irish pounds and rescue shelters were forced to deal with 15,000 new dogs last year.

It is easy and somewhat comforting to think that these unfortunate creatures are bred by a few scoundrels for a foreign market where people don't care as much about animal welfare, but that would be an exercise in chronic self-delusion.

Because while there have been undoubted improvements brought in by the Animal Welfare Act (2013), which ushered in stricter punishments and deterrents for illegal breeders, the unpalatable truth is that there is a huge market for unregulated dogs in this country that has been allowed to flourish due to the lack of proper punishment.

We see this in the continuing proliferation of small ads on social media for pedigree and trendy breeds.

We see it in the way there is a sudden spike in the ownership of toy dogs whenever an American celebrity decides that she wants an animal as a fashion accessory. And we even see it in the often blasé attitude of the courts, which have traditionally displayed a lack of severe punishments for anyone found guilty of causing suffering to an animal.

The DSPCA and those tireless, selfless front-line rescue workers, such as the redoubtable Maggie Howard of Dogs Aid and the singer Linda Martin, have been loud and clear in their calls for stiffer legislation and harsher punishments for callous breeders. But they may be missing the point.

Of course, any increased legislation is welcome, and a few stiff prison sentences for unscrupulous breeders may have an impact, not least because it would provide a more pressing deterrent to other breeders than a small fine and ban on owning animals.

But like all social problems, this is a problem which can only be solved by the people, rather than by the State alone.

That's why we need to make it increasingly socially unacceptable for anyone to invest in a designer dog of dubious provenance.

Apart from any apparently old-fashioned qualms such as basic decency or a reluctance to be part of the illegal puppy trade, these are dogs which have been inbred to the nth genetic degree and frequently come with catastrophic physical, neurological and emotional problems which make them unsuited to life in an ordinary family home.

The really frustrating aspect of this nauseating trade is that there are 15,000 better alternatives to going to an unregulated puppy farm.

So, if your kid wants a dog - and who doesn't? - why not visit your local rescue shelter and let your child save the dog they want?

Then you'll see why they are known as man's best friend.

Irish Independent