As millions of Australian households endure endless weeks of lockdown, the demand for puppy companionship has increased, with popular "designer" breeds fetching thousands of dollars.
With unscrupulous breeders wanting to cash in on the "pandemic puppy" market, animal welfare groups say there has been an almost 25 per cent increase in reports of puppy farms around Australia.
Puppy farms use animals as breeding machines with female dogs kept continually pregnant, sometimes from as young as six months old, until they become too sick or unable to produce enough puppies to be profitable.
Sadly, these dogs are also kept in horrific, overcrowded conditions, leading to a range of serious welfare and medical concerns.
Animal activists say dogs are kept in 'upright tombs'
According to Aleesah Naxakis, spokesperson for peak animal welfare group PETA, breeders around the country are “pumping out litter after litter of designer dogs, with genetic disorders and behavioural problems”.
Animal Australia, another leading protection organisation, describes puppy farms as “hell holes” and reports having seen “dogs kept in upright tombs, denied sunlight and forced to eat, sleep and live in faeces-littered cages”.
Oscar, the face and inspiration behind Oscar’s Law – a prominent anti-puppy farm campaign, spent five years of his life in a "puppy factory" as a breeding dog.
When he was finally rescued he was severely malnourished and weighed just over one kilogram.
Oscar’s fur was so badly matted, he had to be sedated for it to be shaved from his tiny body.
Greta, another victim of puppy farming, was rescued at three years of age and was found with a chronic, untreated ear infection.
She also had to have rotten teeth removed due to lack of care and inappropriate food.
Puppy farms operating within the law
Victoria is the only state in Australia with laws that try to deal with some of the problems associated with puppy farming, including a limit on the number of fertile dogs that breeders can keep and only allowing pet shops to sell dogs sourced from shelters or pounds.
Elsewhere in Australia, puppy farms found to be breaching cruelty laws may be closed down and fined, but this only happens if they’re reported and investigated.
This means many puppy farms continue to operate within the law, profiting handsomely from this cruel form of exploitation.
Dog buyers beware
Desperate to bring home a puppy, unfortunately, many people are actually supporting these unethical breeding programs by purchasing pets online, or from pet shops, rather than dealing with responsible breeders.
According to the Pet Industry Association of Australia, about 450,000 puppies are sold in this country each year, but only 15 per cent are sold through breeders registered with reputable companion animal breeding associations.
It has become more common for Australians to buy animals online, through classified ad sites, especially breeds considered "designer" animals that attract a high-dollar value.
The vast majority of sales are occurring online which means they’re totally unregulated.
Alarmingly, many puppies sold online, or in pet shops, were born in puppy factories, a fact buyers are often unaware of.
These cruel breeders commonly use clever marketing tactics, presenting pictures of adorable, happy-looking puppies, disguising the sad truth about where they come from, often passing on dogs with serious, ongoing health issues to innocent buyers, leaving them with thousands in vet fees.
The Animal Law Institute (ALI) whose mission is to protect animals through the legal system, believes puppy farms should be held accountable for their negligent breeding practices and offer free legal advice to unsuspecting puppy owners who have purchased through an unethical breeder and end up with seriously unwell pets.
In 2018 ALI took on the case of a puppy-farmed beagle named Nala who, at birth, was so severely infested with worms and emaciated she almost died.
Anastasia Smietanka, ALI director and co-founder, said "somewhere, Nala’s fur mum continues to suffer – if she is still alive".
"No animal deserves to live like this. Puppy farmers that profit off the suffering of dogs like Nala need to be held to account," Ms Smietanka said.
"Nala's case is about holding her breeder's accountable for the cruel consequences of their negligent breeding."
ALI successfully launched legal action against the breeder on behalf of Nala's family and they were ordered to pay more than $15,000 for her ongoing food and medical expenses.
Only deal with reputable dog breeders
Animal welfare organisations say the most effective way to put puppy farms out of business is consumer awareness.
If you come across any breeders running puppy farms engaging in cruel practices, you can report them to the police or the RSPCA for investigation.
To ensure the puppy you’re bringing home is healthy and happy, obtain it through a registered breeder, rather than from a pet store or online.
Any type of breed can come from a puppy farm so the only true way to know where a puppy came from and what conditions their parents live in is to visit the breeder’s property to see for yourself.
Always ask to see the puppy’s mother and all relevant paperwork, including vet certificates.
A reputable breeder, genuinely concerned about their dogs' welfare, will encourage you to visit their property and meet you to ensure their puppy is going to the right home.
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