Lucy was a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. When she was rescued from a Welsh puppy mill in 2013, her condition was heartbreaking after years of service as a breeding female. According to the woman who adopted her, Lisa Garner, “It was clear from her physical condition that she had been subjected to appalling conditions.” Lucy suffered from fused hips and a curved spine from being caged, malnourishment, epilepsy, dry eye, hair loss, and an ammonia odor from sleeping in urine. By the time she died in 2016—after three happier years as Garner’s much-loved family member—she had 70,000 Facebook followers and had become the namesake of the Lucy’s Law campaign, an effort to bring an end to often-brutal puppy mills. And as of Oct. 1 in the U.K., a new law aimed at achieving exactly that will go into effect. (Some states in the U.S. have already banned the sale of animals in pet stores.)
Specifically, the U.K. is banning the sale of puppies and kittens—defined as being under eight weeks of age—from third-party commercial dealers. People will only be able to purchase puppies and kittens from the people who raised them or from “rehoming” centers. As a result, pet stores that have in the past obtained young animals from third-party suppliers will no longer be selling puppies and kittens unless they’ve been raised at the store itself.
Protecting the welfare of future pets
There are lots of small-scale pet breeders who love the animals they breed, raise with care, and ultimately sell. However, there are other breeders whose driving concern is profit, people who are far more concerned with selling the maximum number of pets than with the welfare of the animals in their care.
Some of these people operate puppy mills and kitten farms. The ASPCA has this to say about puppy mills:
To maximize profits, female dogs are bred at every opportunity with little to no recovery time between litters. When they are physically depleted to the point that they no longer can reproduce, breeding females are often killed. The parents of the puppy in the pet store window are unlikely to make it out of the mill alive—and neither will the many puppies born with overt physical problems.
Puppy mills usually house dogs in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, without adequate veterinary care, food, water and socialization. Puppy mill dogs do not get to experience treats, toys, exercise or basic grooming. Dogs are often kept in cages with wire flooring that injures their paws and legs—and it is not unusual for cages to be stacked up in columns. Breeding dogs at mills might spend their entire lives outdoors, exposed to the elements, or crammed inside filthy structures where they never get the chance to feel the sun or breathe fresh air.
There are also profit-motivated breeders who don’t necessarily raise the animals they sell, but who buy animals from commercial breeders—their customers may mistakenly feel that they’re buying pets bred and raised in a small-scale, caring environment. They’re not.
In pet stores
Pet stores typically purchase the animals they sell from commercial breeders. They’re the primary customers of puppy mills and kitten farms. So every pet bought in one of these stores means profit for the breeder and encourages their continued exploitation of animals.
If that’s not concerning enough, the animals on display in stores—adorable as the may be— are typically presented in cramped, often-unsanitary cages in a noisy environment, hardly positive conditions for a growing puppy or kitten.
It’s worth noting that some larger pet chains, such as Petsmart in the U.S., offer rescue animals for adoption in their stores from local shelters. They don’t sell these animals who need loving homes.
The U.K. ban
Why target third-party dealers?
While some characterize the imminent U.K ban as being mostly about pet stores, its focus on “third-party sellers” encompasses:
- domestic puppy mills and kitten farms
- breeders who sell animals from puppy mills and kitten farms
- sales of puppies and kittens at pet stores
- online sales from untraceable vendors
Seeing is believing
The ban is clever in anticipating trickery on the part of unscrupulous sellers and sets up some interesting conditions for a legal sale. The sale of an animal must occur in the “presence of the purchaser on the premises where the licensed seller or licensed breeder has been keeping the dog, thereby banning online sales by licensed sellers and breeders.” Also, to ensure breeders are behaving ethicallly, they “must show puppies alongside their mother before a sale is made and only sell puppies they have bred themselves.”
When advertising an animal for sale, the seller will have to display their license number as well as where the license was issued, a picture of the pet, its age, country of residence, and its country of origin. “This will help people identify pets offered for sale from unlicensed sellers including those based abroad.”
Bringing a puppy or kitten home
Adopt or buy?
There are so many animals in the world’s shelters that need homes—2.7 million unwanted, adoptable dogs and cats are euthanized in shelters every year in the U.S. alone. If you’re an animal lover, you owe it to yourself to consider adopting a pet instead of buying one. There are a number of great reasons to do so, from getting a healthier animal to saving money. The Humane Society has a great list of reasons to adopt. Try visiting your local shelter or rehoming center.
If you decide to buy
The key assurance you want from any breeder is that they truly care about the animals they’re offering for sale and that they have the competence and general wherewithal to breed animals humanely and raise them in a healthy environment. In the U.S., there’s currently no legal guarantee that third-party breeders aren’t involved, so do a little sleuthing.
- The American Kennel Club offers helpful advice on assessing the bonafides of a dog breeder.
- If you’re thinking about obtaining a cat from a cat breeder, here’s a comprehensive checklist of things to find out about the breeder.