Puppy farming continues to be a controversial topic in Ireland. For those who are unclear about what this entails, puppy farming means treating dogs like cattle or sheep: using them as breeding machines to produce puppies to sell for profit. This was originally encouraged by the Irish government as an ethical way for farmers to diversify into a new type of "livestock farming". The problem is that dogs are not like other farm animals: they have different needs which aren't easily met when they are kept in large groups of animals.
The phrase "puppy farming" has become a derogatory term, which is unfortunate. There are many different types of "puppy farming", and it's wrong to tar them all with the same brush.
At one end of the spectrum, a breeder could keep twenty breeding bitches, between them producing an average of half a dozen puppies a week. These puppies could be well cared for, properly socialised, with all of their health needs addressed. By the time they reach eight weeks of age, they could be ready for homes where they will become much-loved, well-adapted pets.
At the other end of the spectrum, a puppy farmer could have three hundred breeding bitches, producing ninety puppies a week. The sheer volume of pups would make it challenging to give them all the attention they need to meet all of their needs. There would be a risk that they would not have their social and health needs met in full, and there would be a serious risk that they would end up as fearful, poorly young adult dogs who do not fit in well into their new homes. Given that puppies can change hands for upwards of €500 each, this would produce a turnover of over €2 million per year. Dog breeding on a big scale can be a highly profitable industry.
It's this larger-scale type of puppy farm that has animal welfare activists up in arms. Under Irish law, as long as a dog breeding establishment like this is registered and licensed, there's nothing that can be done about it. The law should be sufficient to prevent serious cruelty to animals, but it's more difficult to guarantee that all of the animals involved have good quality lives and that the pups that are produced will go on to be healthy, well-socialised pets.
The challenge for newbie pet owners is how to tell the difference between high-production industrial style units and a smaller outfits with higher quality puppies.
Some puppy farmers realise that people want to buy from a family-type breeder. Many adverts on internet sales websites do their best to maintain an image of a wholesome dog-friendly background. On the ground, they may manipulate the presentation of their set ups to create this illusion. They may rent a bungalow in the countryside purely to make it look like a family home. Or they may suggest meeting a puppy buyer in a car park "for their convenience", so that there is no link to the premises where the puppy was bred.
People who are looking for a new puppy are warned about these tricks, but it can still be easy to fall for them. A coalition of animal welfare groups, the Irish Pet Advertising Advisory Group (www.ipaag.ie) has a website with a downloadable check list to guide new puppy owners. But it can still be difficult for people to be sure that they are buying a puppy from a reliable source.
A new website, www.petbond.ie, aims to change this. The website has been set up by a young vet who realises the importance of choosing the right puppy in the first place. He has seen the consequences of people buying unhealthy pups from industrial-scale breeders. He knows about the tricks they use to try to persuade people to part with their cash for puppies that they have fallen in love with.
Petbond lists advertisements for puppies that are ready to be sold, but rather than just accepting all-comers, the website uses a simple system of personal verification of breeders before they are allowed to advertise their wares. First, a check list must be completed, to ensure that all puppies have been properly microchipped (as they should be, under an Irish law that is all too often ignored by some dog breeders), vaccinated, and treated for parasites. Second, there is a personal interview with the veterinary team at Petbond, for extra reassurance that the dog breeder is behaving in a fully ethical way.
These checks allow Petbond to offer a reliable way of finding a high quality, healthy puppy.
Petbond also recognises that rescue dogs are the perfect choice for many people. It can be difficult to tell the difference between a reliable rescue centre and a fly-by-night do-gooder pretending to be a "rescue centre". The vet who established Petbond has seen people ending up with challenging dogs that should never have been rehomed to a family. Petbond only works with animal rescue groups who have been fully approved, so that when a new owner gets a pet through the website, the risk of complications is kept to a minimum.
Petbond is a social enterprise that also has other altruistic activities, such as offering free veterinary care to homeless people based at the Father McVerry Trust.
If you are looking for a new pet, visit www.petbond.ie. You'll support good dog breeders and dog rescue centres, and you're far more likely to end up with the best type of pet for your family.