I am delighted to have been able to get Marc Abraham to take some time out of his very busy schedule to talk to me about PupAid and the fight to end puppy farming.
Q. What does PupAid do?
PupAid is a non-profit campaign run by volunteers aiming to raise awareness and influence legislation around the cruel puppy farming industry, as well as promoting responsible dog breeding and rescue pet adoption. PupAid endeavours to raise awareness with its annual fun dog show judged by celebrities in Primrose Hill, London which takes place this year on Saturday 3rd September (details below). As well as our fun dog show, PupAid also actively campaigns in Westminster lobbying politicians, hosting MP drop-in sessions, providing evidence, as well as attending receptions, events, and relevant debates.
In 2014 our Government e-petition to ban the sale of puppies without their mums (e.g. pups sold by dealers, pet shops, and all other pet shop license holders i.e. third party sellers) collected well over the 100,000 signatures required for a Commons Debate which took place in the Main Chamber and was very well attended by MPs, all helping to raise even more awareness. PupAid is also active on various social media channels (details below). Our main hashtag is #wheresmum encouraging all prospective puppy buyers to always see mum interacting with pup.
Q. You and PupAid have been raising awareness and fighting to end so-called ‘puppy farming’. Can you tell us what puppy farming is?
Puppy farming is the mass commercial production of puppies purely for profit and without a thought for the welfare or happiness of the pup, breeding bitch, or stud dogs. Puppy farm breeding bitches are often bred on every heat, and are made to endure horrific lives kept as livestock rather than family pets, often in squalid conditions, until they’re eventually abandoned/destroyed for being infertile; with the emotional and physical welfare of these poor breeding dogs and their pups routinely overlooked.
Breeds and crossbreeds irresponsibly bred in this way tend to be the most ‘fashionable’, greatly influenced by celebrity culture and often called ‘designer dogs’ e.g. Pugs, French Bulldogs, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Cockerpoos, Labradoodles. These puppy farms are rarely open to, or sell direct to, the public, so crucially lack any transparency and therefore accountability; instead relying on a network of third party sellers (e.g. dealers, pet shops, garden centres, and puppy superstores) to sell their puppies at different locations from where they were born.
The many serious and well-documented behavioural problems experienced by puppy farmed pups (including separation anxiety, fear of other dogs, greater aggression towards family members) often relate to early separation of the pup from its mum, lack of adequate socialisation with littermates and humans, as well as being transported sometimes hundreds of miles from their birthplace. As well as behavioural issues, puppies bred in this manner also commonly suffer life-threatening and painful health problems including infections, hereditary disease, medical, and surgical issues too – often resulting in years of expensive treatments or worse, euthanasia.
Q. Who is fighting the corner of the poor animals involved?
Fighting alongside PupAid is firstly the amazing public; no dog lover in their right mind would ever support the concept of puppies sold without their mums, i.e. third party sellers, as shown by the phenomenal support for our 2014 Government e-petition. Selling pups without their mums goes against all scientific research, recommendations by British Veterinary Association (BVA), professional advice given by all vets, vet nurses and dog behaviourists, basic common sense, and even the Government’s advice to ‘Always see the puppy with its mother’ as stated on its (DEFRA’s) own website.
There are also many excellent small to mid-size charities supporting a ban on third party puppy sales too including Mayhew Animal Home, All Dogs Matter Dog Rescue, and Raystede Centre for Animal Welfare. Additionally, on our side are fellow ethical campaign groups including C.A.R.I.A.D., Canine Action UK, Karlton Index, Hidden-In-Sight, Law for Paws, and Lucy the Rescue Cavalier. The campaign has international support too in the US from top canine behaviourist Victoria Stilwell, DogByDog documentary (of which I’m a proud producer) makers, and Finding Shelter Animal Rescue in Philadelphia. Furthermore, many cross-party MPs are also on PupAid’s side including Rob Flello, Dr Paul Monaghan, Kerry McCarthy, David Amess, and Caroline Lucas.
Q. Who could be doing more?
Sadly for the dogs, in my opinion those that could and should be doing more include the Government itself and key stakeholders, including certain animal welfare organisations (often it’s these stakeholders whom the Government listens to when seeking advice regarding legislation). Despite our Government giving excellent puppy-buying advice on its website to always see pup with mum, this same Government is happy to allow local authorities to licence individuals and business to legitimately sell pups on a commercial scale, well-away from their mothers knowing full well the detrimental effects to welfare of the pup, its mum, and prospective owners – so effectively puppy farming is legal.
I am firmly of the opinion that the Government must now stop being hypocritical and listen to its own advice i.e. cut out the third party dealer network so that prospective puppy buyers can only buy direct through visiting the breeder or preferably adopt from a reputable rescue centre instead (obviously with a viable exemption in place for reputable rescues to ‘sell’ young dogs for an adoption fee without mum present – more on that below).
I also believe that key stakeholders, including some of the bigger animal charities need to be clear in their communication to the general public about puppy farming and the fact that there are significant welfare problems for the dogs involved which apply to both licenced and unlicensed puppy farming. By focusing on only one half of the problem, namely the illegal puppy trade, this sends out mixed messages to the public and could wrongly lead the public to assume that licenced puppy farmers are ok.
Depressingly, for the dogs this is not the case and the welfare concerns for both legal and illegal puppy farming are the same. This same principle applies to illegal ‘smuggling’ vs. legal importation of pups i.e. just because puppies are imported correctly (chipped, vaccinated against rabies, over 15 weeks old, accompanied by the correct paperwork, etc) does this then make it OK for them to be traded in this way? After all they’re still most likely being bred by irresponsible breeders i.e. born on cruel puppy farms and being transported long distances likely to prove detrimental to their welfare.
In addition, these stakeholders need to be consistent in their approach and stop changing their position on whether or not they support a ban on third party sales – this was never more publicly obvious than at their recent EFRA Select Committee Inquiry in Parliament and subsequent messages put out on Social Media.
As for those making it virtually impossible to get justice for dogs and puppies when we have serious welfare concerns, including providing hard evidence and witness statements, the first I would cite are many of the UK’s councils – the same councils that continue to grant licences to these poor welfare breeders and dealers (third party sellers). In terms of getting justice for duped puppy buyers, some Trading Standards officials will often appear indifferent and uncooperative because the problem lies with the laws primarily, i.e. they don’t appear to be helpful because they can’t be. Commonly, in spite of masses of evidence, Councils/Trading Standards frequently find it difficult to take any meaningful action as unfortunately it seems that once a licence is granted it protects the licensee rather than the animals or the consumer. And this is completely unacceptable to us, as it should be for any organisation committed to high standards of animal welfare.
In my professional opinion any solution that supports continued licensing (legitimising) of puppy dealers and pet shops selling pups rather than banning the network that keeps puppy farming alive, can only send out the wrong message to the public but also encourage more irresponsible breeding and puppy farming. As seen on Panorama’s ‘Britain’s Puppy Dealers Exposed’, licensing has been wholly ineffective at preventing horrendous abuse of animal welfare in the puppy farms that supply pet shops. It makes no sense at all to continuing relying on, or worse, expanding a failed system, particularly with the backdrop of reductions in local authority resources on which enforcement depends.
Sadly, none of the arguments put forward by some of these large charity stakeholders are backed by fact and their indecisive and inconsistent messaging is now hugely confusing the public too; a public who just want a happy, healthy pup bred from a happy, healthy mum.
A particular example that comes to mind is a claim by one animal charity that they’re trying to end the puppy trade, even using words like ‘scrap’ and ‘eradicate’ when in fact they are working hard to only end the illegal trade, so by default actually further legitimise it – which sadly is the complete opposite of the outcome expected by the public given the wording of their campaign. Giving out misinformation like this to their trusting supporters is in my view, hugely misleading (especially when asking for donations and personal data), as well as damaging to any progress being made to dog welfare as a whole.
When considering the detrimental effects that the third party selling of pups has on their welfare, it cannot be justified and in my view, it is as wrong as smoking in pubs, driving a car without a seatbelt or indeed smoking whilst driving with children in the car. So for me (and many others), the only way forward is a straight forward ban on third party puppy sellers such as dealers and pet shops because it simply cannot ever be done ‘properly’.
It seems pretty obvious to me (and many others whose interests are purely welfare driven) that as long as they have their third party network of puppy sellers, puppy farmers will continue to thrive, unexposed to public scrutiny and with absolutely no transparency or accountability for their actions. You have to remember that these breeders, by definition are irresponsible, because responsible breeders ensure they play an active part in finding good homes for all of their puppies – meeting and interviewing prospective buyers to assess their suitability as owners.
However, lack of consensus in the welfare sector usually hinders much needed progress as well as missing opportunities to make meaningful changes to outdated legislation; all this leaving the poor dogs (and their owners) continuing to suffer. Furthermore banning third party sales will not only force larger scale breeding operations e.g. puppy farms to open their doors to the general public (who in my opinion are one of the best inspectorates for animal wellbeing and raising concerns to relevant parties), but also remove the legal outlet for commercially imported (illegally or legally) pups born on cruel continental puppy farms (outside of any UK regulatory control) and therefore will simply encourage a healthy, ethical supply of home-grown pups making sure the huge demand for puppies (a reason which some organisations still use to justify importing low welfare pups) remains served – but responsibly so.
It’s also worth noting at this point another smokescreen, commonly used for distraction, is blaming online ‘sales’ rather than third party sellers. Again, this makes no difference to the argument whatsoever because at that final transaction, whether visiting the fake breeder’s house and mum’s not there, collecting from a motorway service station, or opting for puppy delivery; transactions without mum interacting with that puppy would all clearly be illegal sales, easy to flag, and for local authorities to then investigate. Just to expand, the enforcement of a ban would be easy, because any individual selling quantities of pups that doesn’t hold a breeding licence, or where the number of puppies exceeds what would be anticipated from the number of breeding bitches would soon arouse suspicion. Vigilance on the part of the public, volunteer monitors, the Pet Advertising Advisory Group (PAAG), and the website hosts would identify ‘rogue traders’ and action can then be taken. The fact that third party sellers have to advertise and have to sell in large quantities means they cannot avoid exposure and draws attention to their activities. They can’t survive ‘underground’ as unlike drugs or guns (which some organisations compare to puppies) no right-minded potential puppy buyer is going to purposely look for an illegal pup that has been bred in conditions that are detrimental to its (or indeed its mum’s) physical and emotional health and welfare.
No potential purchaser would ever knowingly want to buy a puppy that is likely to need treatment and run up huge vets bills or suffer with behavioural issues. I firmly believe that people actually want a happy, health pet but at the moment, there are so many mixed messages and misinformation being put out there, that they are being sadly misguided when trying to do the right thing.
The obvious deterrent is that it will be too difficult to succeed at third party selling if it was illegal. The odd few may initially slip through the net but it’s about sending a simple, clear, and understandable message to the public – as well as dog breeders/sellers – and this message is about what is right and removing the legal market for those pups bred by irresponsible breeders e.g. puppy farms with no regard for their welfare. Any other ‘improvement’ measures won’t succeed while this market remains because it will be like trying to empty the bath with the taps still running.
PupAid, together with our phenomenal coalition of ethical campaigners, has repeatedly provided scientific animal welfare evidence, hard data, and expert testimony at EFRA’s Select Committee Enquiry in Westminster supporting the case for ending the third party trade in puppies, including Licensed Third Party Puppy Vending in Great Britain 2016 and The Great British Puppy Survey Findings 2016. However, we’ve yet to see any scientific evidence – or any evidence at all – to prove why selling puppies away from their mothers is beneficial to the welfare of puppies, mothers, or the unsuspecting public. There is not even any evidence to suggest that it can be done without having a detrimental impact. We have unfortunately seen an enormous amount of speculation and assumption from some big charities with some scaremongering thrown in for effect too e.g. warnings of fake mums (which can easily be spotted) as well as being warned of the industry going ‘underground’ (which would basically be puppies sold illegally – without their mums – again, even easier to spot); hardly worthy excuses (saying you can’t ban anything bad in case it goes underground?) which all helps to further hinder any much needed progress in UK dog welfare.
Interestingly one of the big charities refusing to support a ban on third party selling and threatening that it’ll just go ‘underground’ is at the same time vocal in supporting a ban on primates as pets. This appears to be very inconsistent thinking as why should one ban be any less enforceable than another? I will stress again that the concerns of a black market puppy trade are unfounded because puppy buyers are not comparable with those intent on illegally buying drugs or guns and won’t seek out a criminal underworld of sellers! Once again, there is a wealth of evidence to show that puppy buyers are as much victims of the third party trade as the sickly animals they are duped into purchasing because they make decisions based on emotional responses. This is human nature and it is completely unfair to continue to expose unsuspecting consumers to the activities of those who care nothing for the welfare of the puppies they are selling or the impact on those who buy them. All the misery that arises from trading puppies like goods can so easily be stopped with a simple ban on selling pup without its mum present.
Furthermore, charities and organisations recommending use of the (BVA AWF & RSPCA) Puppy Contract one minute, then warning of fake mums the next, seem to assume any dodgy dealer being asked for information will be honest in one situation but not the other. However, the intro on the website clearly states “The contract can be used for all puppies, whether they are pedigree or not, and by any breeder or seller, including rescue centres.” Therefore, they (BVA/RSPCA) would presumably encourage its use by pet shop licence holders as well as all other breeders/sellers. Then this is completely contradicted in the Guidance Notes referring to Q 1 & 2 “AWF and the RSPCA recommend that you do not buy a puppy from anyone other than the breeder so that you can see the puppy in the place where he was born.” Obviously I agree with the sentiment of this statement but it immediately excludes rescue centres as there is no mention of them! If they’re saying that the Contract can be used by any puppy seller to record the thought and attention they have devoted to their puppy’s breeding and care but clarify that the only good seller is the breeder then why would the contract be used by any other seller as even before you open it, you are instructed that other situations are to be avoided (irrespective of the use of the Puppy Contract!)
Then this: “It is very important that you see the puppy’s mother and the other puppies in the litter.” Is of course great advice once again, however there’s an obvious flaw in that logic too. Essentially they’re saying it can be used by anyone (pet shops included) and it should be used by everyone. They’ve strongly marketed that anyone using the Puppy Contract is responsible but indicated in the notes that only breeders are actually valid “sellers” (not even rescue centres!) The Puppy Contract is as open to misuse as the internet classifieds but they don’t recognize this flaw; therefore as a failsafe piece of paper with “legal force”, remains riddled with problems, contradictions, and appears completely unworkable.
All these obstructions force us to now question what possible motives can these big charities have that are so powerful as to blatantly ignore all the scientific animal welfare evidence, data, common sense, realistic legislative exemptions, public appetite for change, as well as the countless invitations to improve animal welfare presented to them? If you would like more information, feel free to check out some of the evidence reports PupAid and our fellow campaigners have proudly put together and shared including: 1) Licensed Third Party Puppy Vending in GB 2016, and 2) The Great British Puppy Survey Findings 2016.
Q. There was a recent protest outside Westminster. Can you tell us the latest news and developments from that?
Yes, we were lucky enough to be invited along by fellow campaign group BoycottDogs4Us to attend their recent protest outside Westminster. BoycottDogs4Us was set up to focus on the activities of two licensed puppy superstores in Leeds and Manchester who both legally buy in pups bred from licensed (legal) puppy farms. As well as MPs, campaigners, and mid-size charities all speaking out for the dogs, we were honoured to be joined by dog-loving celebs Jodie Marsh and Meg Mathews, guaranteeing the issue received the widespread coverage it wholeheartedly deserves.
Furthermore, myself and Jodie were interviewed live on BBC 2’s Daily Politics which got our important message about the need to ban third party puppy sellers (dealers, pet shops) out to a political audience too. You can watch our interview here. Protests like BoycottDogs4Us’ not only greatly help in raising awareness of puppy farming and selling, but also keep this important conversation going and mount even more pressure on Government for urgent change. On behalf of BoycottDogs4Us I’d like to thank everyone who attended this hugely successful protest as well as all of those caring dog lovers who couldn’t make it but shared and supported this important dog welfare event on their social media channels.
Q. What is the next step in your bid to stop puppy farming?
To keep fighting and exposing the truth; it’s clear that no amount of licensing, inspection, or regulation can ever make selling a pup from a third party acceptable or appropriate on animal welfare grounds, and quite simply any organisation or individual against banning third party puppy sales is, by default, supporting irresponsible breeding e.g. puppy farming/dealing/pet shop pups.
As mentioned previously some charities may claim that they’re ‘selling’ rescue pups without their mums for an adoption fee so would be restricted by any legislation banning the sale of pups without their mums. It is actually rather disturbing that certain rescue charities view their role in rehoming animals for a welfare benefit as insufficiently different from the activities of commercial sellers, who are deliberately buying batches of puppies produced for them to sell on for a profit. It is easily possible to separate these diametrically opposed activities on the basis of intent, and we question the priorities of organisations that are focussed on opposing a ban rather than seeking a workable exemption for reputable rehoming charities, as suggested in the EFRA Select Committee Inquiry.
PupAid is incredibly fortunate to work alongside like-minded campaign groups equally as passionate to end puppy farming. Together we produce reports, data, evidence, and documents to help politicians understand the scale of the problem and get to the truth. None of us have any vested interests and none of us get paid for campaigning. We are just in it for the sake of the dogs with science, evidence, public opinion, my own personal experience of treating irresponsibly bred pups and their mums from a veterinary perspective, and some fantastic MPs, and the awareness raised by our annual fun dog show all on our side. I will also continue using my contacts in the media to carry on raising public awareness using all platforms available e.g. Panorama’s recent excellent expose into the licensed puppy trade ‘Britain’s Puppy Dealers Exposed’ which PupAid and our coalition of campaigners contributed to, and you can watch on iPlayer here.
Q. Can you offer advice to people thinking of getting a puppy or a dog (or indeed, any pet)?
The best advice for anyone thinking about getting a pet is of course to visit your local rescue shelter and adopt a rescue animal and then telling everyone you know to do the same when choosing a pet. Worth noting that rescue shelters also have puppies available too, with most rescue animals available for rehoming already neutered, vaccinated, microchipped, house-trained, as well as treated for fleas and worms; so why wouldn’t you adopt rather than buy?
However, if you were dead-set on buying a puppy from a breeder then always do your homework to source the right breed/crossbreed for you, and seek a responsible breeder where you always see puppy interacting with mum; crucially for the welfare of both mum and pup, and importantly at the place where the puppy was bred, i.e. no pet shops, garden centres, dealers, motorway service stations, or any other pet shop licence holders i.e. third party sellers. I recommend all health certificates are shown too, and please show your vet if you’re still not sure, responsible breeders will have no problem if you request this and will most likely encourage it, after all they’ve nothing to hide. Also please remember just because a puppy comes from a ‘licensed breeder’, is ‘Kennel Club registered’, or ‘comes with 4 weeks’ free pet insurance’ it’s no guarantee of a puppy’s health, quality, or welfare of the pup or its mother.
Googling all mobile (and landline) numbers may also reveal any suspicious litters/adverts, and please be wary of anyone selling/advertising more than one or two different breeds or crossbreeds, or offering delivery. Prospective puppy buyers should expect to be interviewed by the breeder and may be required to visit their puppy at least twice before taking home their new best friend. If something doesn’t feel right, never be afraid to walk away and alert the authorities immediately. It may seem like a hard choice but ‘saving’ one puppy from a bad situation simply means more will be bred to take its place.
Q. What can people do to help end puppy farming?
Firstly, anyone can help raise awareness. Tell family, friends, and work colleagues. Follow and share posts on PupAid’s social platforms on Twitter (@pupaid), Facebook (PupAid), and Instagram (@pupaidofficial). When your friends and family know an issue is important to you, they’ll pay more attention. Social media is very powerful. The more people who know about puppy farming, and the advantages of choosing a rescue pet or choosing a puppy responsibly, the quicker we will see change from a human behaviour perspective, eventually making it socially unacceptable to buy a pup without its mother whilst the law catches up with higher breeding and sales welfare standards in the UK.
Secondly, everyone can contact/tweet/arrange a meeting with their MP about this issue and ask them to support a ban on puppies sold without their mums (by third party sellers, dealers, pet shops, etc). You would be shocked at how little many government officials know about puppy farms and dealers and often benefit from being educated too. Download and take with you our evidence documents. You can find your MP’s contact details by clicking here. Why not write to DEFRA (Government department responsible for animal welfare) pressing them to follow their own advice and take action on a ban on third party puppy sales?
Join local groups peacefully protesting outside pet shops that sell puppies. Or start one if one does not exist. Furthermore, never support pet shops that sell puppies, meaning no purchases at all, no treats, no toys, no food, nothing. Spend your money in ethical pet shops that don’t sell pups at all. Everyone can organise their own puppy farming awareness events too, like fun dog shows in their areas and/or simply come along to PupAid’s annual fun dog show in Primrose Hill, London on 3rd September 2016. You could even start your own Government e-petition calling for a ban on third party puppy sales. Basically anyone and everyone can make a difference and play their part in ending this mostly legal canine catastrophe.
Annual PupAid event in Primrose Hill, London, with celeb-judged fun dog show, trade stands, have-a-go agility, doggy displays, vegan food, and lots more; is free to attend, and everyone’s invited. (Pic: Black Lab Pictures).
Q. PupAid 2016 is not too far away. Can you tell us how the Fun Dog Show started, what it is all about and personalities involved?
I was inspired to start PupAid when I treated puppies in my vet clinic dying of parvovirus, a highly contagious disease commonly found in pups bred in poor conditions, and discovered they were purchased from legal puppy dealers buying them in from legal puppy farms. I was shocked to find the whole ‘chain’ from puppy farm to consumer via dealers and third party sellers was totally legal in the UK yet so detrimental to the welfare of the puppies and breeding dogs – so decided to try and do something about it.
The first ever PupAid fun dog show was in Brighton with a few well-known local personalities. Seven years on and PupAid’s fun celeb-judged dog show now takes place in London’s beautiful doggy paradise of Primrose Hill, complete with boutique doggy shopping village, live music, have-a-go agility, a vegan mini-food festival and of course the very poignant and incredibly moving parade of rescued ex-puppy farm breeding dogs. We’d like to thank Royal Parks and are incredibly honoured to also host popular display teams e.g. Hearing Dogs for the Deaf. Animal-loving celebs that have attended and who have helped raise widespread public awareness include Ricky Gervais, Brian May, Elle MacPherson, Rachel Riley, Sue Perkins, Liam Gallagher, Peter Egan, Sarah Harding, Joanna Page, Ali Bastian, Susie Dent, Meg Mathews, Lucy Watson, and Owen and Haatchi to name but a few. For more info visit http://pupaid.org/.
Q. Finally, when you are not fighting to end puppy farming etc how does ‘Marc the Vet’ relax??
I find that animal welfare campaigning is never something you can step back from easily. Even when you’re physically doing something else, the breeding dogs and puppies you know are out there suffering unnecessarily are always on your mind – that never goes away. Attending meetings and events in Westminster, raising awareness on TV, radio, press, and social media, as well as collaborating with like-minded people to develop strategies to help combat this multi-faceted welfare problem can be rewarding but also equally as frustrating, as well as emotionally draining. I am, however, fortunate to live on the seaside in Brighton so if I do get a spare moment I’ll usually hang out with my mates down the beach, watch football (Arsenal fan!), or go to a comedy club. And if I manage to get a rare few days off in a row I’ll try and go scuba diving or snowboarding.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to me Marc.
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