27.Dogs are bred, sold and traded every day. The annual market for puppies in the UK is unknown, but it is estimated that sales could range from 700,000 to 1.9 million, worth between £100 million and £300 million. Puppies can be purchased from a variety of sources—unlicensed breeders, Kennel Club registered puppies, imported puppies, commercial licensed breeders (including pet shops) and rescue organisations. The quality of the puppy, the life it has led and the welfare problems it has experienced vary considerably across these sources.
28.We have focused on three sources of puppies: unlicensed breeders; commercial licensed breeders; and imported puppies.
29.The Breeding of Dogs Act 1973 and the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999 set out the licensing regime under which local authorities licence dog-breeding establishments. The legislation states that anyone carrying on the business of breeding and selling puppies must have a licence, irrespective of the number of litters. However, owing to the lack of clarity of the legislation, local authorities in England have interpreted this to mean that they need only licence those breeding five litters or more in a 12-month period.
30.As a consequence, a large number of breeders fall under the radar of the current licensing regime, with no record of the dogs being born and no welfare standards being enforced. Battersea Dogs & Cats Home estimated that 88% of puppies born in the UK were born to unlicensed breeders.
31.Defra’s recent consultation on its review of animal licensing establishments noted confusion about the threshold and how it should be used in practice. It proposed clarifying the threshold at which a breeding establishment needed to be licensed. In the future, the requirement for a licence would be applied to: (a) anyone in the business of breeding and selling dogs; or (b) anyone producing three or more litters from their dogs in a 12-month period. In Wales the threshold has already been reduced to three or more litters.
32.Witnesses told us that they wanted a lower threshold. They emphasised the need to bring visibility and accountability to breeders. The puppy trade is a profitable business, with “designer dogs” costing in excess of £1,000 each. Charity representatives told us that the focus was often on profit with little concern for animal welfare. Blue Cross stated:
There is just no accountability for what they do and how they do it, and [ … ] you have to assume that significantly there is an issue around the welfare of both the progeny and the dogs that are being bred from in terms of quality. There is an issue that we are generally unsighted on the number of puppies that are being bred weekly, monthly and annually through these unlicensed breeder outlets.
33.Many charity representatives argued that the threshold should be two litters or more. While one litter could be an accident, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home told us, “any breeders who are producing more than a litter a year are clearly running a business breeding and selling dogs”.
34.Some witnesses also said that even those falling below the threshold should be registered by the Local Authority. The National Companion Animal Focus Group said that a registration scheme would “ensure licensing authorities are aware of breeding dogs in their area, and can monitor when they fall into the definitions of commercial breeding”.
35.The Local Government Association told us that local government would be able to administer a system of registration and licensing, although it had concerns about the resources necessary. However, it questioned whether reducing the threshold “would suddenly make people who are currently evading registration start registering”.
36.The then Minister of State for Farming, Food and the Marine Environment, George Eustice MP, was not in favour of a registration scheme. His priority was to take a “major step forward” and get those that were breeding three litters or more within the system.
37.The puppy market is extremely profitable. However, much of it works in the dark, with unlicensed breeders able to dominate the market. Transparency is vital, ensuring that appropriate welfare standards are in place. The current threshold at which breeders need to be licensed, which is set at five litters per year, could equate to some 40 to 50 dogs being produced by each breeder each year. We consider that threshold is too high.
40.Anyone who carries on a business of breeding dogs for sale must obtain a licence from their local authority and meet certain conditions, such as providing suitable accommodation, food, water and bedding. The law also limits the timing and frequency of breeding from a bitch: bitches cannot be mated before they are a year old; should have no more than six litters in a lifetime; and can have only one litter every 12 months. Dog breeders should keep records to show compliance with these requirements. Puppies bred at licensed breeding establishments can only be sold at those premises or at a licensed pet shop.
41.While many commercial breeders are “very good producers, producing a quality animal to have a long and happy life, going through the right processes”, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home highlighted the opposite end of the spectrum, where puppies are bred in substandard conditions:
… where you have licensed [ … ] properties producing pretty poor animals: pretty poor quality, very bad breeding issues, where the producer is not thinking about the breeding stock they are using. There are often breeding bitches involved in this that will be shut away for many years and never see the light of day.
42.Breeding establishments across Great Britain vary in size. Most are at the smaller end of the scale. 52% have 10 or fewer breeding bitches, with 10 being the most common size of establishment in Great Britain. 3% of establishments have 50 or more on their premises, and there are five which each have over 100. The largest establishment has 200 breeding bitches.
43.Charity representatives did not believe that the size of the breeding establishment necessarily had a detrimental impact on welfare. Battersea Dogs & Cats Home said, “You could have 100 or 1,000 breeding bitches and puppies produced in one property if you had enough people, enough land and enough resource to be able to cater for their needs appropriately”.
44.Rather than focusing on the size of establishments, witnesses called for improvements in two areas in particular: the current legislation and licensing conditions; and enforcement of the licensing regime. We also looked at the issue of exemptions for breeders accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS).
45.Witnesses told us that the current legislation and licensing conditions were outdated and not in-line with the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act. Dogs Trust told us that the breeding legislation was enacted before advances were made in understanding the behavioural needs of animals and therefore paid little attention to animal welfare requirements.
46.In Wales, the Animal Welfare (Breeding of Dogs) (Wales) Regulations 2014 replaced the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973 and introduced stricter welfare criteria for dog breeding. Breeders in Wales are now required to produce draft socialisation and enrichment programmes when applying to the local authority for a licence. The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) welcomed the move and said that the Welsh regime was a “step forward” in dog legislation.
47.Witnesses called for the legislation in England to be reviewed and updated by means of Regulations under the Animal Welfare Act.
48.Breeders have an important responsibility to provide for the social development and broader welfare requirements for puppies in their care. We recommend that the legislation governing the breeding of dogs should be updated with a licensing regime based on modern welfare standards.
49.Enforcement of the licensing regime is a statutory duty for Local Authorities. The table below shows which Local Authorities have the most licensed establishments and are therefore required to be particularly active—with hotspots in mid and west Wales, Lincolnshire, East Anglia, and some rural areas of Scotland.
Table 1: The top ten areas with the highest number of currently licensed breeders
No. licensed breeders
King’s Lynn & West Norfolk
50.Effective legislation requires consistent and effective enforcement, with “properly qualified and competent inspectors”. Witnesses highlighted concerns over the training and capacity in local authorities to undertake inspections of breeding establishments and to investigate complaints. Where there were a high number of breeders, enforcement needed to be appropriately resourced. The scarcity of breeding applications in some council areas meant that dog-breeding premises were regulated by staff whose expertise lay primarily in inspecting taxis, restaurants or other non-animal premises.
51.The Local Government Association acknowledged that there were variations in the skills of local government officials. It told us that there was no ‘standard’ to which local authority inspectors must be qualified, in contrast to other inspectors such as environmental health officers. It called for Defra to follow the Food Standards Agency model, and to develop a competency framework for individuals doing animal licensing inspections.
52.One way in which improvements could be made would be through sharing best practice. The City of London was given as an example of where collaboration and sharing best practice had improved standards; although the City of London had no animal establishments, it had a team that was contracted by other London boroughs who “are so small that they cannot employ someone full time or even part time, so we do that work for them”. However, Christopher Laurence was not confident that local authorities would share expertise.
53.Witnesses also expressed concern about the huge variances in the cost of licences, and the timing of inspections. Licences varied in price from £23 in Glasgow to £741 in Lambeth. We heard that inspections often occurred at the end of the year before licences were renewed, easy for breeders to anticipate, and that there were very few unannounced visits.
54.Some witnesses called for the establishment of a national inspectorate. Christopher Laurence told us that he had “argued for some time” for inspections of breeding establishments to be taken away from local authorities. This is the model for the licensing of zoos; Government-appointed zoo inspectors assist Local Authorities in considering zoo licence applications, renewals and periodic inspections. Dogs Trust said that such a body could be funded by the cost of the licence and of inspections: “it is very important that the body is not-for-profit, so that it is welfare that is top of the list, not profit”. They said that such a body would help establish common standards of inspection.
55.The Minister acknowledged that enforcement of the licensing regime was a “mixed picture” around the country, with local authorities placing different levels of emphasis on it.
56.Current enforcement of the licensing regime is unsatisfactory. While some local authorities have developed expertise in animal welfare, the overwhelming majority of English local authorities lack suitably qualified inspectors. We believe that a national inspectorate, which local authorities could call upon, would enable expertise to develop and bring a consistency to the licensing process.
58.As part of its consultation, Defra proposed a local authority licensing exemption for businesses accredited by UKAS. The Kennel Club’s Assured Breeder Scheme (ABS) is currently the only breeding scheme accredited by UKAS and has almost 6,000 members. The annual cost of ABS membership is £60 per year.
59.The Kennel Club told us that using the ABS scheme would improve breeding standards, as ABS members were inspected to higher standards than local government inspections. It would also support under-resourced local authorities, while helping puppy buyers recognise which breeders were breeding to higher standards. The Kennel Club told us that if a member of the ABS resigned or was disqualified, the Kennel Club would be obliged to inform local authorities.
60.The Minister said that the proposed exemption scheme would lead to consistent enforcement, giving “earned recognition” to those within the scheme, while leaving local authorities to target resources at individuals who were not within the licensing regime.
61.The Local Government Association told us that it was not in favour of the exemption scheme, as it “took away their powers”. Dogs Trust also highlighted the concerns they had:
Such an exemption would mean that there would be no Powers of Entry into establishments that are not licensed by local authorities. We have serious concerns surrounding enforcement and sanctions that could be taken against non-compliant establishments. We have significant worries that the only ultimate sanction for anyone failing a UKAS inspection would be removal from the accreditation scheme. Furthermore, UKAS does not carry out unannounced inspections, which Dogs Trust believes are essential to protect animal welfare.
62.UKAS accreditation is a good thing, and we encourage its pursuit on its own merits. However, we do not believe that it is a substitution for local authorities’ inspection. Therefore we do not support the Government’s proposal to establish a complete local authority licensing exemption for businesses accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service.
63.Puppies can be imported for commercial purposes or under the non-commercial trade rules that were set up to allow free movement of people’s pets—the EU Pet Travel Scheme (PETS).
64.Witnesses told us that loopholes in the Pet Travel Scheme were being exploited by unscrupulous dealers and traders. Because individuals are allowed to transport up to five dogs if they followed the rules, puppies could be moved as pets but then traded commercially once at the final destination. Between the introduction of PETS in 2011 and 2015, there had been an 850% increase in the number of dogs entering Great Britain from Lithuania. For Hungary the increase had been 761% for the same period, whilst from Romania the increase had been 2055% between 2011 and 2015.
65.Puppies being imported in this way were often bred in terrible conditions, had been taken from their mother when they were too young, and had endured long journeys (often travelling over 1,000 miles). The welfare of such puppies was severely compromised: many did not survive the journey; and they often brought diseases into the UK. Breeders could make upwards of £100,000 a year from the sale of these puppies.
66.During the inquiry, witnesses identified three areas of concern: the age at which puppies were allowed entry into United Kingdom; enforcement checks at ports; and intelligence sharing between agencies.
67.Under PETS, the minimum age of entry to the UK is 15 weeks: vaccination at 12 weeks, followed by a three week incubation period. However Dogs Trust told us that data on passports was being falsified to evade contravening PETS; dogs were more profitable when they were younger and in the ‘cute and cuddly’ stage. Ageing a puppy accurately was extremely difficult and therefore puppies younger than 15 weeks old were being allowed into the country.
68.Dogs Trust called for puppies under the age of six months to be banned from entering the United Kingdom under PETS. It said that this would “wipe the market out overnight”.
69.Witnesses told us that controls at British border ports were poor. This was especially true during the weekends when there were fewer border control personnel on physical duty at the main ports of entry such as Dover and the Eurotunnel. Many dealers used these opportunities to travel with puppies over the weekend. Battersea Dogs & Cats Home said: “We do need to be aligning our resources accordingly to be at the ports and looking for these people at the times that they do come through—Friday nights, weekends etc”.
70.Finally, charity representatives were concerned over the lack of intelligence-sharing between themselves and government agencies. Battersea Dogs & Cats Home said there was a “real opportunity to have industry working together with Government to fix a problem”. A recent pilot run by Defra with Dogs Trust and the Animal and Plant Health Agency, also involving the Border Force, police and local councils, had successfully seized over 300 illegal puppies over a six-month period. However, we were told that information sharing by immigration agencies had been frustrating.
71.The Minister acknowledged that the illegal importation of puppies was a serious problem. The Government was evaluating the results of the pilot to determine what action could be taken.
72.The Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) is providing a vehicle for the illegal importation of puppies. The Government must ensure that negotiations regarding our future relationship with Europe include this issue. The age at which dogs are allowed to enter the United Kingdom under PETS should be increased to six months, thereby reducing their commercial value to smugglers.
75.Members of the public, when buying a puppy, want to buy a happy healthy animal from a reputable source. However, disreputable dealers are selling animals for huge profits without regard for their health and wellbeing, leaving families with sick animals. In this section, we examine the current legislation concerning the sale of animals.
76.The main piece of legislation concerning the sale of animals is the Pet Animals Act 1951 (PAA). The Act controls the sale of animals in pet shops and provides a licensing regime implemented by local authorities.
77.The PAA defines the commercial sale of pets as “carrying on a business of selling pets” at any premises including private dwellings. 62% of pet shops licensed to sell puppies are non-retail premises, including dog breeding establishments and domestic premises. Pup Aid noted that this was a growing problem.
78.As commercial puppy breeders can sell only through their premises or to those with a pet shop licence, a licence allows commercial dealers to sell puppies from a non-commercial space. If that space is a dwelling, the powers of entry for enforcement officers are significantly curtailed for the purposes of either the Pet Animals Act or the Animal Welfare Act.
79.Many witnesses told us that pet shop licence holders sold genetically unviable puppies. They were often transported long distances with poor ventilation, noise and overcrowding. While it was recommended that dogs should not be removed from their mothers too early, the Act allowed for breeders to sell to dealers before puppies were 8 weeks old, which had an impact on the socialisation of puppies, impacting not only their lives but also the lives of their owners. Pup Aid noted that selling animals through licensed pet shops exposed them to increased disease risks and unnecessary stress.
80.We heard that unscrupulous dealers would go to some lengths to pose as responsible breeders in order to sell animals to an unsuspecting buyer. For example, dealers offered “homes” as a reassurance to potential buyers. In its recent report, the RSPCA said that:
This is all to get a quick sale, making it look as though the puppy comes from that home when in fact it has been transported from elsewhere and in some cases from another country. Once the purchase has been made the home can be vacated so the seller cannot be traced. Some dealers also supply fake or meaningless documents to the buyer.
81.Dealers make large profits on the sale of dogs. During a visit to a commercial breeder in Wales, we were told that puppies were sold to dealers for £200 each. However, the breeder was aware of the dogs being sold on for three or four times that much.
82.Witnesses told us that the Pet Animals Act was “thoroughly outdated” and that there was a lack of clarity as to what was and was not a licensable activity. Cats Protection told us that there was a need for improved definition of “premises” and “commercial activity”. They said that uncertainty was exacerbated by exemptions in the Act in favour of those selling pedigrees, the offspring of pet animals and those animals not suitable for showing or breeding “with the net result that the commercial sale of animals from private dwellings [ … ] is, effectively, unregulated”. We also heard that the Act was ill-equipped to deal with the problems of the internet age, which we discuss in more detail below.
83.Witnesses had differing opinions on how to deal with current problems around the sale of animals—some called for increased regulation while others called for a ban on third party sales.
84.The RSPCA called for more transparency, with anyone who was commercially trading in animals to be licensed. NPCC and the Local Government Association agreed that this would enable “transparency through the whole supply chain of pets”.
85.Witnesses told us that any extension of the licensing regime should include improved animal welfare standards. We were told that it was very easy to get a licence “without having to demonstrate any core competencies around pet care, keeping and knowledge”. Welfare conditions under the PAA had not been updated to take into account improved understanding of animal welfare, and of requirements under the Animal Welfare Act. There is considerable variation in the criteria imposed by local authorities for commercial premises. Only a third of local authorities use the current licensing standard, according to Pup Aid—the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health Model Conditions for Pet Vending Licensing 2013: “The rest of them are using the previous version or the one before that or their own standards, so there is a huge variation in what they are being monitored against”.
86.Other witnesses wanted a ban on all third party sales. Pup Aid told us that “Anybody that is selling a puppy non-directly, say through a licensed pet shop has no regard for the welfare of their puppies. By definition, a responsible breeder will want to ensure that their puppies go to a good home”. They pointed out the contradiction between Defra’s advice about seeing a puppy with its mother against the reality of buying from a third party seller.
87.Witnesses told us that removing third party sellers would mean that purchasers would buy from breeders directly and therefore be able to assess the premises for themselves. This would improve breeding conditions as “breeders would not be able to hide from liability for the conditions dogs they sell are raised in … “. Other witnesses said that a ban could drive the trade underground and that model licence conditions would be a way forward.
88.The breeder we visited in Wales said there would be difficulties in selling directly to the public due to the rural location. On the other hand reducing the links in the supply chain and selling puppies directly to consumers might increase the amounts earned by breeders.
89.The Minister told us that he “was not attracted” to the idea of an outright ban on third-party sales. He said that there was a danger of “driving the [industry] underground”, and wanted to focus on getting “the types of establishments that we think should be within a regime within such a regime”.
90.Responsible breeders would never sell through a pet shop licence holder. The process of selling through a third party seller has an unavoidable negative impact upon the welfare of puppies. It also distances the purchaser from the environment in which their puppy was bred. Banning third party sales so that the public bought directly from breeders would bring public scrutiny to bear on breeders, thereby improving the welfare conditions of puppies. It would also bring a positive financial impact to breeders, allowing them to retain money that is currently lost in the supply chain. We acknowledge that difficulties of public access, due to a rural location, security issues and diseases, may be challenging for some breeders. On balance, however, we consider it is more important that animal welfare standards are ensured across all breeders.
92.Many of our witnesses expressed concern that the internet was making it easy for disreputable breeders to find a market for dogs to operate without appropriate traceability, transparency or accountability due to the anonymous nature of an online transaction. It is worth noting that these sales are not “click and buy” sales; instead the internet introduces a buyer and seller, with the transaction taking place at another time.
93.Witnesses told us it would be difficult to ban online advertisements. Dogs Trust noted that: “the challenge we have is that jurisdiction only covers the UK, and therefore you will find websites will pop up outside the UK selling dogs for sale within the UK. As much as it would be lovely to be able to do that, I do not think it will work”.
94.Due to increasing concern about the number of internet sales, the Pet Advertising Advisory Group (PAAG) was set up and in 2013 developed standards for advertisements on websites. The reach of PAAG is limited as only six on-line classified advertisement websites have signed up to these minimum standards. Dogs Trust said that they had reached a plateau with membership: “There are some sites that will not engage, and equally one can push only so far the sites that are engaged, because clearly everything that is asked of them has an impact on their activities”.
95.Gumtree told us that as a result of its collaborations with RSPCA and PAAG, it had seen a dramatic reduction in the amount of live advertisements in its Pets Category. Gumtree used to have over 50,000 listings for pets for sale; it now has around 15,000. However, it had identified a corresponding increase in the number of pets for sale across other classified sites. This highlighted the need for other websites to comply with PAAG’s minimum standards. PAAG told us that minimum standards should be applied, through legislation, to all websites where pets were sold.
96.Some witnesses expressed concern about the sale of animals through social media sites, such as Facebook. Gumtree noted that Facebook had a large number for sale listings, but Gumtree was unable to quantify the number, due to the nature of Facebook’s structure, with both open and closed listings groups and individual posts. PAAG told us that Facebook considered itself to be a publisher and not responsible for the content that was shared. However, it noted that there had been some “shocking” videos of animal cruelty posted on the site, and believed that Facebook should apply minimum standards, as it did for nudity, to welfare offences.
97.Witnesses said that there was currently confusion about whether those selling on the internet had to have a licence. The Minister told us that under the Pet Animals Act 1951 they did, and that this would be made clear during the consultation. Charities queried his assurances that an Act which was over 60 years old could legislate effectively for the internet, and wanted any new Act to specifically state the need for those advertising over the internet to be licensed.
98.Witnesses also called for a mandatory requirement for internet sellers to list their registration or licence number within the advertisement so that buyers could verify it. Battersea Dogs & Cats Home told us that new legislation in France had recently made it compulsory for any advertisement on the internet to contain the seller’s tax code.
99.Puppies should not be bought online. Potential owners should see the young animals with their mothers and make sure they are at least eight weeks old. However we recognise that in the digital age, people will continue to use the internet to advertise, and legislation must be developed to provide effective regulation of that trade.
101.We recommend that legislation should state specifically that those advertising the sale of animals on the internet should have a licence. It is essential that legislation remains relevant and effective in the digital age.
102.We recommend that the Government make it compulsory that all internet advertisements should include the registration or licence number of the seller. We also recommend that the Government look at the new regime in France where the seller’s tax code is included on the advertisement, to see whether such a regime could be put in place in the United Kingdom.
103.A common theme during the evidence sessions was the need to bring “proper traceability” around animal production. Witnesses called for a centralised, publicly accessible list of registered and licensed breeders and sellers, facilitated by Defra, to enable buyers and websites to check the legitimacy of breeders and sellers.
105.At the moment when anyone has a complaint about a breeder, a pet seller, or an issue regarding a pet they have bought, whether it is sick, they suspect the breeder does not have a license, or they have a welfare concern, there is no central place to report that concern and record progress and any actions. There are many options: the advertising platform, trading standards, PAAG, C.A.R.I.A.D, police, local council, RSPCA etc. That very variety increases the likelihood that the issues may not be fully recorded or even properly resolved.
106.Pets4Homes called for the creation of a central reporting system for complaints relating to the breeding and sale of pets:
There should be an official central reporting system/website where vets, advertising platforms, puppy buyers, and members of the public, can register and create a report, providing any evidence they can. If this was linked to an animal licence holder by their licence id, it would be a good way to keep track of any complaints received and be used to help prosecute bad breeders.
22 Battersea Dogs & Cats Home,
23 Animal Welfare (Breeding of Dogs) (Wales) Regulations 2014
26 Battersea Dogs & Cats Home ()
27 National Companion Animal Focus Group ()
32 Breeding Dogs & Cats Home,
34 The United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) is the sole national accreditation body for the United Kingdom. UKAS is recognised by government, to assess against internationally agreed standards, organisations that provide certification, testing, inspection and calibration services.
37 Battersea Dogs & Cats Home,
45 Kennel Club ()
48 Dogs Trust ()
49 The Non-Commercial Movement of Pet Animals Order 2011 (as amended by the Non-Commercial Movement of Pet Animals (Amendment) Order 2014).
50 Dogs Trust ()
51 Dogs Trust,
58 Pup Aid, C.A.R.I.A.D., Canine Action UK, The Karlton Index, Laws For Paws ()
59 Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association ()
60 Pup Aid, C.A.R.I.A.D., Canine Action UK, The Karlton Index, Laws For Paws ()
61 RSPCA, , p12
62 Cats Protection ()
67 Boycott Dogs4Us ()
72 Qq569, 393
76 Six classified websites have signed up to PAAG minimum standards: Gumtree, Pets4Homes, VivaStreet, FridayAds, Preloved and Epupz
83 Blue Cross ()
84 Dogs Trust (), Battersea Dogs & Cats Home ()
87 Pets4Homes ()
11 November 2016