INTRODUCTION TO THE SPECIAL FOCUS
The way in which puppies and kittens are bred and sold has undergone a number of significant changes over the last decade. These changes have resulted from a huge growth in the demand of pedigree/designer dogs and cats creating a market economy for these animals. This has greatly altered the way in which these animals are produced and supplied, often involving unscrupulous and illegal breeders and dealers across Europe.
This situation has been facilitated by the relaxation of the quarantine rules with regard to dogs being transported between EU borders and the introduction of the non-commercial movement scheme (pet passports). Besides the growth in puppy farms in Eastern Europe and Ireland to supply this demand, there are now more and more smaller-scale unlicensed private breeders and dealers across Europe who are profiting from this market and the growing demand for designer puppies and kittens. This demand is being driven by a society heavily influenced by fashion fads and celebrity culture where animals are being bought to project a desired image, status or trend, rather than being driven by forces that will determine the animal’s long-term welfare. This, along with a growth in the marketing and selling of puppies and kittens online has contributed to growing concerns that these animals are being bought on impulse and becoming victims of a throw away society. The wastage rate of dogs and cats bought on impulse through abandonment or relinquishment appears now to be as much a matter of over demand as of over supply. The way in which these animals are featured in advertising, films and online appears only to compound the over demand situation resulting in many shelters now struggling to cope with the number of dogs and cats requiring rescue places.
Demand-linked breeding of pets tends to be a money making business with many licensed and unlicensed breeders producing animals only to make a profit. Costs are wherever possible kept to a minimum leading to poorly bred animals suffering from hereditary diseases and behavioural issues. The huge influx of puppies specifically bred for the western European market has led to intense competition, poor and inhumane breeding practices (particularly on unregulated puppy farms) and a huge increase in cross border transportation through the pet passport and the commercial pet movement schemes.
Puppies or kitten produced in this way are generally sold online once they arrive at their final destination, at highly competitive prices, which reputable professional breeders are unable to compete with. This creates unfair competition within the EU. Furthermore the sale of these animals often ignores the suitability of the pet and the capability of the prospective owner to take care of the animal. This may lead to the animal being bought on impulse and then being resold, relinquished or abandoned. The general public unaware of the issues of buying online are fuelling this demand believing that they have bought a puppy or kitten which has been responsibly ‘home’ bred. However there is a high probability that they have bought an animal that may have been imported, that has been poorly bred and that will eventually cost them more financially and emotionally due to requiring expensive veterinary treatment.
Existing legislation is inadequate to address the situation, poor enforcement and lack of harmonisation of legislation across the EU member states has meant that unscrupulous breeders and sellers are profiting from this trade with little or no consequence. These breeders and sellers are becoming far more sophisticated, often supported by criminal networks and using loopholes in the legal trade mechanisms such as the non-commercial and commercial movement schemes to exploit the market. In addition the huge growth in internet sales of pets has meant that these sellers and dealers are able to sell anonymously (by not having to verify their identity with classified ad sites), creating a haven for illegal activity and resulting in poor animal welfare.
In summary the puppy and kitten market today is not properly regulated, unbalanced and any regulations in place are often not enforced. This is clearly leading to serious animal welfare and health concerns, consumer protection issues, unfair competition and illegal activity.
In summary the main issues today are:
- The Demand
Consumers want to purchase animals in a very convenient way for the lowest price possible. They also want to have very specific breeds, driven by fashion trends (such as animals of celebrities, movies, TV series etc.) and they want to have the animal immediately. The decision of buying an animal is more and more impulsive and without consideration of the life span of the animal and the responsibilities involved. There is little easily accessible quality information on the buying and owning process to help ensure that buying a pet is a considered purchase and not an impulse buy.
Reputable professional breeders are more and more in competition with unscrupulous breeders who are offering lower-priced animals without respecting any animal welfare or health standards. Often breeding dogs are reduced to reproduction machines and suffer a lot from their very poor keeping conditions and from the overproduction of puppies. When they are no longer able to breed these animal are disposed of, often in inhumane ways.
As there are no precise EU rules for transporting dogs and cats across EU borders, transport is often done in inadequate conditions leading to high suffering and stress of the animals.
The Internet with its numerous classified ads websites is becoming the first place to buy and sell dogs and cats. These sites are generally unregulated and difficult to control unlike other distribution points of sale such as pet shops. They have therefore become a haven for the illegal pet trade.
- Legislation issues
Lack of Consumer protection: Many buyers face both financial and emotional distress when unknowingly purchasing an animal which has been illegally imported or one that is suffering a genetic disease or behavioural problems due to poor breeding practices., It is often very difficult for the buyer to obtain satisfactory legal compensation.
Lack of traceability: as there are insufficient EU requirements for the identification of dogs and cats and no common EU requirements for the registration of these animals, there is no traceability resulting in poor consumer protection, animal welfare and serious health risks.
Lack of enforcement: Even when countries have laws to protect consumers and animals, enforcement is often an issue. Authorities are generally not qualified or resourced to address these issues. The police in particular may not wish to be involved in animal welfare issues unless related to human crime i.e. dog fighting and drugs. Corrupt rules for cross-border commercial and non-commercial movement of companion animals are very complex and not being enforced so that unscrupulous breeders know very well how to bend the rules. Veterinarians are also profiting from this trade and assisting unscrupulous breeders and sellers in preparing falsified documentation so that animals can be transported.
Over the next 6 months the CARO platform will explore the issues and complexities of the trade in cats and dogs as companion animals. This information will be shared with politicians, relevant authorities and the general public to raise awareness of the issues and to help develop solutions.
- Overview of EU non-commercial movement and commercial movement legal rules
- Country profiles regarding dog and cat trade: France, Belgium, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Italy, Austria; Romania