IN THE NEWS: On NOV 2, 2017
You’ve been eyeing off that adorable pupper for ages. You see him in the window on your way to work and his big eyes seem to follow you as you walk past. But you’re not sure where he comes from - how his mum was treated, whether he was sold on the cheap to a pet store from dodgy operatives.
So what do you do?
Animal welfare organisation, the RSPCA, has a guide on its website on how to be a good pet owner. It recommends buying a pet from an animal shelter or rescue centre. That can reduce demand for buying bred animals through pet stores or breeders themselves.
The head of the RSPCA in Canberra, Tammy Ven Dange, said people should be open-minded about what type of animal they get.
“I think that would help to get more animals out of the shelter faster, and also reduce the need for puppy farms to exist because they wouldn’t be making as much money,” she told Hack.
California has become one of the first places in the world to force pet stores to sell rescue animals, as a way of snuffing out so-called puppy farms.
A puppy mill or puppy farm is a commercial operation where pets are bred for profit, often with little regard for their safety or welfare.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates there are 10,000 puppy mills in the United States.
Judie Mancuso from Social Compassion in Legislation, the animal welfare organisation that pushed for the Californian laws, said puppy farms have a terrible track record in how they treat dogs.
“They barely feed them, they never leave the cage, there’s no exercise, there’s no medical [attention]. And they just breed them one litter after another after another until the animal is spent,” she told Hack.
How can I make sure I’m not buying from a puppy farm?
Both Tammy and Judie say there are reputable breeders out there who care for their animals and treat them well, so they’re not calling for a ban on breeding altogether.
But they say consumers should do their research before settling on a breeder.
“It’s ideal to try and get recommendations, see if they’re actually accredited with the pet industry, because those that are accredited have other things they agree to do [in regards to welfare],” Tammy said.
Tammy also says going to visit the breeders has limitations.
“We do know that some of the puppy farms will use a front. They’ll say, oh I breed it in my house. And so they’ll have a townhouse that’s rented out and they’ll show you the puppies there, but in reality it’s coming from a puppy farm.”
Price is a much better indicator because good quality breeders spend cash on making sure their animals are looked after, Tammy said.
So if an animal is heaps cheaper at one place compared to everywhere else you’ve seen, be a little bit suspicious.
If you’re paying just a couple of hundred dollars for a puppy, assume it’s from a backyard breeder or a puppy farm.”
No uniform laws in Australia
Then there’s the issue of where you buy your pets.
A quick scroll through an online marketplace like Gumtree brings up HUNDREDS of sellers, some registered, some not.
Not every state and territory requires pet breeders to be registered - the Northern Territory, Tasmania and New South Wales have no such requirements, for example.
In Victoria and the ACT both cat and dog breeders need to be registered. South Australia has passed laws that require that too, and they’ll start next year.
In Queensland only dog breeders need to be registered. In Western Australia it’s just cat breeders, but the state government has promised to introduce laws requiring dog breeders to be registered, too.
The Greens want uniform laws across the country to stop puppy farms.
Greens federal leader Richard Di Natale said governments have been reluctant to act on animal welfare in the past due to financial interests.
“Far too often it’s business decisions and the desire for people to want to make a quick buck that influences the decisions that are made here in Parliament,” he told Hack.
Federal Labor wants to create a new office - the Independent Office of Animal Welfare - to keep an eye on things.
"There’s a growing demand for some oversight which is at least to some extent, arms length from Government. The independent office would give us that," Shadow Agriculture Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, told Hack.
Kate Schoffel from the Australian Association of Pet Dog Breeders said requiring ID at the point of sale would expose the bad eggs in the industry.
Everybody who breeds and sells a puppy should be identified when they advertise it.”
Kate also wants breeder registration renewed every year after a veterinary examination of facilities, so that the people who do the wrong thing in her industry don’t ruin it for good breeders.
“It’s too profitable an industry to not attract in people who do the wrong thing,” she said.
“We’ve got an enormous industry; it’s worth a billion or more to the Australian economy and it’s based on a completely random, disorganised amateur approach.”