The Cost of Puppy Farming

Published by Caitlyn Hart on

Nearly every child, no matter what age, has asked for a puppy. I was one of those, who spent hours searching Gumtree for that perfect puppy. What I didn’t consider was that those cocker spaniel puppies, along with hundreds of other breeds, that I longed for were probably raised in terrible conditions and it is highly likely that those pups came from a battery farm for dogs.

Battery farms for dogs or puppy farms are large-scale commercial breeding establishments. These are flooding the market with unhealthy pups, that are breed in appalling conditions, purely for profit. Any child expects to have their puppy for life, but in some cases your new puppy might come with hidden health issues and suddenly fall ill.

Every so often, a new case of animal cruelty hits the headlines and there is a brief wave of outrage followed by, misdirected, relief that the culprits have been brought to justice.

The scale of the problem

This relief is misplaced because according to the animal charity, the RSPCA there are around 100 organised criminal gangs, importing diseased and ill dogs bred in horrendous farms, operating at any given time.

The RSPCA’s Senior Press Officer, Amy Ockelford, said: “We have investigated puppy dealing gangs who were making £35,000 a week. It’s impossible to know exactly how many illegal puppy farms and dealers are operating in England and Wales, so we don’t know how much this industry is worth. However, from large-scale gangs we’ve brought to justice, it’s clear this is a multi-million pound industry.”

Over the past five years, the RSPCA has witnessed a 132% rise in the number of complaints it has received about the, £100 million and rising, black market trade.

However, the average salary of a reputable breeder is around £20,000 per year in the United Kingdom. The salary for a dog breeder varies widely based on the number of litters their dogs produce per year, the quality of the breeding stock, the going rate for puppies of a particular breed, and the breeder’s reputation in the industry. Some breeds command higher prices than others due to limited supply, such as new cross-breed dogs. Some breeders command higher prices because they have top quality stock from championship lines, especially when this has been demonstrated at major dog shows.

Chief inspector Ian Briggs, from the RSPCA’s Special Operations Unit , said: “The gangs pretend to be legitimate breeders, but they are hiding the fact they are turning over hundreds of dogs as quickly as possible with no regard for the animals’ welfare. Dogs can be reared in truly horrendous conditions and bred for a fraction of the cost.”

These gangs can sell these pups to the unsuspecting buyers for an average of £600 per pup, however the cost can depend on the breed and how in demand that particular breed is. For example, “A designer cockapoo or French bulldog bred in a puppy farm in Ireland or Poland might cost 100 euros but could be sold for £1,500 over here,” says Briggs.

Where are these pups coming from?

Linda Goodman, founder of Care And Respect Includes All Dogs (C.A.R.I.A.D), said: “If they are kept on licensed puppy farms – remember puppy farming is not illegal if you have a breeding licence – they will be licensed for a specific number of dogs by a local authority. However, this is pointless as it is common for puppy farmers to have many more dogs at their establishment than they are licensed for and at the point of yearly inspection, which they are warned of well in advance, the puppy farmers simply move the extra dogs to other sites off premise or will dispose of excess dogs in other ways such as shooting and then incinerating them with the farm waste.”

Some of these battery farms for dog will breed their own pups, while many however, choose to import – often illegally, from farms abroad, in countries such as Ireland and eastern Europe. The RSPCA have identified ten battery farm hotspots in England which include: Greater London, Greater Manchester, West Midlands, Kent, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Essex, Staffordshire, Durham, and Cheshire.

In 2016 the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) made an announcement, which revealed that all imports of puppies from Ireland, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, and Romania – all of which are countries which have been identified as having large-scale battery farm operations – have risen by 75%. That means of the 93,000 dogs imported to the UK in 2015, 33,000 came from one of these five countries, which means 52,000 were imported from other European countries.

Imports of puppies from Romania in 2015 rose by a staggering 88% from the previous year. The country is the largest exporter of dogs to the UK, with around 11,000 coming into the country last year. Imports from Ireland are now finally being declared and are at their highest level ever, with more than 10,000 entering the UK in 2015.

Health problems

Checking the provenance of a puppy is important because without checking, new owners can face the heartache of seeing their puppy sick or, in the worst case scenario, seeing their pup dying whilst racking up huge veterinary bills.  

Speaking about the health of battery farm puppies, the RSPCA’s Amy Ockelford, said: “Dogs used for continuous breeding and the puppies produced within the underground puppy trade often have serious health issues and behavioural problems. They are not kept in suitable conditions, given appropriate veterinary treatment or necessary socialisation so often have lots of problems. Sadly, many puppies from these environments, will have serious illnesses which can be fatal, such as parvovirus.

“Some people may have no problems with their puppy and never be aware that they’d purchased a dog from a puppy farm. Sadly, others will face huge veterinary costs. Some of the victims we’ve dealt with have faced veterinary bills exceeding £5,000.”

Lucy Garner, rescued a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel from a puppy farm in 2013, called Lucy. When taken in by Garner she was in terrible condition. Lucy’s problems included fused hips and a curved spine from being kept in a cramped cage, malnourishment, chronic dry eye, epilepsy, bald patches to her fur, and skin that smelled like burning flesh from the ammonia in the urine she was forced to sleep in.

Speaking about Lucy, to ‘The Mirror’, Garner, said: “It was clear from her physical condition that she had been subjected to appalling conditions. However, with lots of patience, Lucy went on to enjoy a full, albeit far too short life, filled with happiness, and her love for life radiated to all those who met her.”

Speaking about Lucy’s Law, which Garner launched after the death of Lucy in 2016, she said: “Hearing the news that Lucy’s Law will now be implemented and that the sale of third party puppy sales will be banned is just phenomenal. It’s been an extremely emotional time since losing Lucy, who was my little soulmate, and who is still so desperately missed every day.

“It is of huge comfort to know that Lucy’s suffering was not in vain and Lucy’s Law will be her lasting legacy. The campaign has been a huge team effort of which I’m just a small part, it’s down to the compassion and dedication by so many that this incredible result has been achieved.”

20% of puppies purchased from pet shops and directly from the internet, on sites like Gumtree, suffer from parvovirus, which is four times the average of puppy’s purchased from a reputable breeder. Parvovirus is a highly infectious disease that attacks the dog’s intestines and stops them being able to absorb vital nutrients and can cost up to £4,000 to treat.

These horrendous conditions along with no vet care and no regular grooming play a factor in the health of the puppy. The list of health issues a puppy from a battery farm for dogs can have is long and can include: kidney and heart disease, joint disorders, blood disorders, deafness, eye problems, shortened or missing limbs, respiratory disorders, matting, mange, mites, scars, nail overgrowth, missing teeth, fleas and ticks, and much more.

“They could face high insurance premiums – if they’ve had to claim on their insurance a lot for health problems – and also the financial implications of finding other expert help, such as a behaviourist,” Ockelford says.

Puppies brought up in a battery farm inevitably have issue with their behaviour such as: fear, trembling, shyness, aggression, anxiety, hoarding food or items, erratic sleeping patterns, and much more. Dog behaviourists in the UK can charge anything up to £40 or £50 per hour of training, which can also go up to £150 and £200 for a package deal.

Internet abuse

The impulse and enthusiasm, of perspective owners, to buy cute puppies is being highlighted by the huge number of potential owners going online to search for that, perfect, pup. Gumtree – the leading online marketplace for puppies – provided the RSPCA with figures to help highlight the risk and realities of buying puppies online.

In one month alone in 2017, there were 66,439 searches for French bulldogs on the site, with Labradors receiving 57,771 searches, Jack Russell’s 55,013 and Pugs 48,296. The company has seen a massive increase in the number of people buying, selling and rehoming dogs on the site, with figures up by 785% over the last decade.

The RSPCA’s Justine Williams told the Express that: “While classified websites, if used responsibly, can be an effective method of advertising for responsible breeders and rescue organisations, sadly, far too many people abuse the internet, and this has led to many animal welfare issues arising.

“The web provides the perfect marketplace for unscrupulous breeders and dealers to advertise puppies without arousing suspicion. And traders are finding clever and cunning ways to fool not only the buyers, but also the websites themselves.”

Amy Ockelfold of the RSPCA said, “We’d urge anyone thinking of getting a dog to consider rescuing instead of buying – the RSPCA has thousands of dogs in its care waiting for new homes: www.rspca.org.uk/findapet. If you are intent on buying a puppy, you should do lots of research and be extremely cautious when choosing a breeder. Visit the puppy more than once, see it with its mother, ask to see paperwork and ask lots of questions. Use the Puppy Contract for advice and guidance.”


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