The bond between man and dog is as unbreakable as it is ancient.
Our four-legged friends have been integral parts of our family homes for as long as anyone can care to remember.
And it seems that more recently, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, that need for loyal companionship has only become more sought after.
Indeed the sale of puppies in this country has skyrocketed in the last year, with many opting to get an animal to keep them company during lockdown.
However, this has led to both a huge spike in prices – thousands of pounds in some cases on sites like Gumtree, Pets4Homes and Preloved – and an increase in horror stories about dog lovers being duped by disreputable and unlicensed breeders into buying very sick pets.
As a result, these unsuspecting folk then have to fork out even more large sums of money in order to pay the subsequent vet bills.
The most recent of these is Vanessa Wade, who travelled all the way to Briton Ferry in Neath Port Talbot from North Lincolnshire after seeing an advert for a gorgeous Poodle-Bichon cross online.
After paying £1,500 for the dog she later discovered that it had a potentially fatal grade four heart murmur which she claimed was not disclosed to her by the breeder.
“[That day] my entire world collapsed around me,” she said.
“We were told by the vet that she would probably die in her sleep and that we would have to make a decision about ‘letting her go’.
“I sobbed and sobbed. How could they have sold us such a sick and desperately ill puppy?”
The family has since had to pay nearly £6,000 on life-saving surgery for the pup, who they named Muffin, along with an assortment of tests and scans – an amount they had to sell off their personal possessions in order to meet.
Yet the problem is far from exclusive to the pandemic.
Take Rebecca Lugg from Neath, for example, who, a couple of years ago, bought a labrador puppy from breeder Dylan Huw Thomas only to discover she’d been deliberately misled about its health.
Neither was she the only one to fall for his lies, which included altering documents and veterinary cards to cover his trail of fraudulent behaviour.
Thomas would make up stories about the background of the puppies he sold, claiming they’d been raised on a property among family and children, when, in reality, he had little idea where they’d come from.
So ill was one chocolate lab that the animal had to be put down.
Thomas eventually pleaded guilty to 14 separate offences under the Fraud Act 2006 and the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981, and, in December 2018 at Swansea Crown Court, was forced to pay £215,000 under the Proceeds of Crime Act and given a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years.
But many others like him aren’t punished and, according to the RSPCA, farms across Europe continue to breed sick dogs at alarming rates before transporting them to homes in the UK to sell – addresses which it refers to as “little more than shop-fronts for unscrupulous puppy dealing rings.”
The animal welfare charity also says that 87 percent of puppy trade calls it receives are about animals bought over the internet.
So, how can you really know if the person you’re buying from is legit?
Well, the RSPCA’s tips for spotting a puppy dealer’s online advert are as follows:
- Dealers may use the same contact number on more than one advert – try Googling the number to see if it shows up as having been listed elsewhere.
- Search online to see if the same descriptions have been copied and pasted, sometimes word-for-word, onto more than one advert.
- Look out for the use of popular terms like miniature and teacup because dealers will try to capitalise on their appeal.
- Right click on the photo of an advertised puppy, select search Google for image and see if it crops up in other ads.
- If the advert says a puppy has been vaccinated – check how old he or she is. A puppy cannot be vaccinated before it’s four to six weeks old. So, if a person says they have a three-week-old vaccinated puppy, then you know they’re lying.
- If the puppy is advertised as having a passport, it has most probably been imported.
- Some dealers claim they are Kennel Club Registered to sound above board, so always ask to see their original documents and check with the Kennel Club beforehand.
The UK’s largest organisation devoted to dog health, welfare and training, the Kennel Club itself also has tips on what you should ask to ensure you’re buying from a legitimate breeder.
These include requesting to see the pup in its home environment, preferably with its mother, along with all the relevant paperwork – including health test results for the parents and vaccination records.
You should also enquire when payment is expected and never pay for a puppy before you have seen it – be wary of anyone who pressures you to take an animal home with you on that first visit.
A caring breeder will also be keen to ask you lots of questions to make sure you’re a suitable match for the dog.
In addition, as of next month pet shops in Wales will no longer be able to sell puppies they have not bred themselves under a new law being brought in by the Welsh Government to crack down on puppy farming.
The result of growing concerns about seriously-ill animals born in poor conditions to bitches forced to bear repeated litters, it means puppies must be sold at the same premises where they’ve been bred, by the same people who have bred them.
It’s hoped this will stop baby animals being transported long distances and moved from location to location before they find their permanent owner, something which often has serious impact on their well-being.
The move, which also applies to kittens, follows the implementing in England in April 2020 of Lucy’s Law – named after a spaniel who was rescued from a life of maltreatment wherein she was confined to a cage for years and repeatedly forced to reproduce.
Breeders will now need to apply for a license through their local authority, who in turn will inspect their premises.
Current Welsh Government regulations mean a local authority licence is only needed by those breeding three litters or more per year.
Subscribe to the WalesOnline newsletter today
You can now get all of the need-to-know news sent straight to your inbox by signing up for our free WalesOnline newsletter.
It takes just seconds to subscribe – simply click here, enter your email address and follow the instructions.
Wales’ chief veterinary officer Christianne Glossop said, “The most important thing to point out here is that breeding puppies and kittens is a perfectly legitimate thing to do. We are not trying to outlaw it.
“What we are trying to do is make sure that all animals involved in that process are cared for and their welfare needs are met and respected.
“What we want is happy healthy pets and happy healthy owners.
She added: “Hopefully now people will be more aware about asking the right questions when they buy a puppy or a kitten so they understand what they are looking for. I think education is really important here.”
From September 10 it will be an offence to sell a puppy or kitten which the seller has not bred themselves.