Updated November 29, 2020
See also an update below from 2016 from after the trial.
The RSPCA Investigation
Dog X (name withheld as subject to an RSPCA investigation) is a five year old crossbreed who was advertised on an online classified ads site. When the person went to see the dog, a few things happened that we hear all the time and immediately set off alarm bells:
- There was evidence of dog breeding at the property
- She was met at the door and not allowed on the premises
- The front light was ‘not working’ so she could not inspect the dog
- The seller said he couldn’t find the dog’s vaccination records but would send them later
She could see straight away that this was all very suspicious, but took the dog knowing she was rescuing him from a bad place.
The next day she came to us to have the dog inspected. He is an entire male likely used for breeding, and his coat had been recently clipped in places. The areas which could not be clipped showed that he was severely matted and likely not groomed for over a year.
Worse, when a hand was placed lightly anywhere towards the left hand side of his head he recoiled in obvious pain and became aggressive if further movement was made towards his left. The aggression was clearly an attempt to prevent further pain. We did eventually succeed in flipping back the ear flap to show a severe ear infection as pictured. I have never seen a more painful ear in any dog.
The changes to the ear show that this problem is years in duration, and if any veterinary care has been sought, it has been woefully inadequate. I believe this dog, like so many whose only purpose is to breed, has never had a vet checkup, received a vaccination or even left the property. He was probably originally bred at the same house and became a breeding dog himself, further adding to an inbreeding problem we see frequently in these cases.
The good news is that he found someone who is willing to help him. Fixing his ear may require specialist surgery and we have taken the first steps. With our support, his new owner has made a complaint to the RSPCA but with the current state of the legislation, proving a crime will be hard.
Update In 2016
In January, 2016, the seller, Gary Taylor, was successfully prosecuted by the RSPCA for cruelty to animals and banned from owning animals for 12 months. As I was the vet who saw DJ and (together with his owner) made the report, I was required to appear as a witness for the RSPCA prosecution.
I stated what I’ve said here, and then Gary Taylor questioned me himself. It was quite a nerve-wracking experience even if it was only about stating the facts of the matter. The same thing happened to Leah, his owner, who must have nerves of steel.
Foolishly, I’d planned a family holiday in the Grampians for the same week; I’ve never covered more kilometres in one day before and hope never to again.
He appealed (unsuccessfully) and later the same year was convicted of a second offence of failing to provide adequate living conditions for 11 cats and kittens. This time, an ‘until further notice’ section 32A order was made against him. That means now it will be illegal for him to own or look after any animals until told otherwise. That’s unlikely to change anytime soon.
A Puppy Farm Sickness
O’Toole is a Spoodle sold to a local pet shop from a Victorian supplier. His first owner found she could not cope with some of the puppy issues, and so gave him to his second owner.
When she brought him to us for vaccination, he was happy and doing well at home. On questioning his faecal consistency (just because we know to look for this in farmed puppies), the phrase ‘MrWhippy’ was used. This immediately sent us scurrying for the giardia test, which of course was positive.
So what is giardia? It’s a gastrointestinal protozoan parasite which causes a persistent infection once it establishes. It will cause death in young pups, reduced growth rates if older, and easily infect human adults and children with a similar persistent disease.
Giardia is so ridiculously easy to treat that these puppies must come from places with very poor standards and woeful involvement with veterinarians. We find that approximately 50% of such puppies having giardia is completely unacceptable in the age of modern medicine. So far, the response to our attempts to deal with this has only been denial from the puppy farms that there is a problem.
Choosing A Good Breeder
I don’t want to sound like I am against all pet shops. We are against the continued unscrupulous breeding and selling of puppies and the conditions under which some breeding dogs are forced to live. As the Animal Welfare League have said, “We do not actually believe that pet shops should not be selling puppies and kittens; what we are saying is that if they do they should really follow the same criteria that we do.”
Of course there are excellent caring breeders, even among those motivated by profit. The problem as it stands is that it is very hard for a consumer to be able to make an informed decision and choose a puppy from a reputable source. It is even harder to stop those who commit these casual acts of cruelty from doing it again and again.
So how can you choose a good breeder who is ethical and not puppy farming? If choosing a purebreed, a good start are the member lists held by local bodies such as Dogs SA. For any breeder large or small, you should be able to visit their premises and meet the parent dogs. You need to rely on your impression plus hopefully the word of mouth of others.
Be careful using online ads, especially if the seller will not meet you at their home. And remember most online sellers state that pets sold on their sites must be vaccinated, microchipped and vet checked so ask for the evidence. You should expect to always be able to meet the puppies’ mother and be given a good reason if the male is unavailable.
Having puppies shipped from interstate can be OK if you do your research first.
Dog rescue shelters are another good source of dogs. Any good facility will make sure the dogs have been checked by a vet and had their behaviour assessed before being made available.
It would be lovely if there were laws governing breeders, or if bodies like the RSPCA inspected and approved certain places. However, these things don’t exist.
Is There Hope For The Future?
The Final Report of the Select Committee on Dogs and Cats as Companion Animals was released in July, 2013. There is slow progress since then towards turning it into law.
If implemented, the recommendations made by the select committee will:
- Create standards in the health and welfare of breeding animals
- Eliminate the worst ‘puppy farms’ and ‘backyard breeders’
- Require puppy and kitten sellers to adopt minimum standards
- Bring SA in line with enacted or proposed legislation in other states
There are eleven excellent recommendations contained in the Final Report and ideally all eleven will be enacted. The following three are at the heart of the current problems. They are:
- Introduction of a Breeders Code of Practice: A regulation comprising a breeder code of practice will need to be added to the Animal Welfare Regulations, 2012.
- Updating the Code of Practice for the Care and Management of Animals in the Pet Trade (1999): Schedule 2 of the Animal Welfare Regulations, 2012 will need to be updated.
- Mandatory veterinary examination, vaccination and micro-chipping of animals prior to sale, plus desexing of cats: Updating either the Animal Welfare Act, 1985 or the Dog and Cat Management Act, 1995, depending on the precise nature of the amendments that accompany this.
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By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These articles are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story!