Puppies by the kilo

The way we make our pets is unconscionable, writes Sarah Mourney.

Illustration by Madeleine Pfull.
Illustration by Madeleine Pfull.
Illustration by Madeleine Pfull.

The RSPCA says that about 250,000 kittens and puppies are killed each year in Australia. These animals are the voiceless victims of a pet industry whose actions range from just irresponsible to completely inhumane. Much of the pet industry operates for profit and without proper regulation, which according to Animals Australia has contributed to the deaths of 14 million cats and dogs since World War II.

There are three ways you can purchase a dog. The most ethical would be buying from an animal rescue shelter, as you are quite literally snatching an animal out of the jaws of death. The next-best option is doing the research and buying a pet from a registered breeder who treats their animals humanely.

The third is a so-called “puppy factory” or “puppy mill” – buying from these sellers is contributing to an exploitative industry that over-produces and abuses animals.

Puppy factories aim to breed as many puppies as possible, sell as many as possible, and then kill the leftovers once they are no longer young enough to be cute. In order to minimize costs puppies are generally kept in confined cages, which prevents them from socializing and can lead to behavioural issues later in life. Furthermore, they are likely to develop health problems from living in squalid conditions and not being vaccinated. Mothers are treated like birthing machines, being forced to breed constantly. Many of these puppies die in their filthy cages, and there are high numbers of genetic disorders due to unsound breeding practices.

It is estimated by the RSPCA that over 95 per cent of puppies sold in pet stores originate from puppy factories.

A campaign to stop puppy factories called Oscar’s Law started in 2010 after Debra Tranter rescued a puppy called Oscar from a factory in Victoria. “His fur was so matted it was restricting his movement, he had ear infection, rotten teeth, inflamed gums, and he was severely malnourished,” she said. When she turned to the authorities for help shutting down the factory, the police arrived, took the puppy and fined her $1500 for theft.

The puppy industry needs to be better regulated and higher welfare standards need to be enforced. The only way to stop puppy factories continuing this abuse is to introduce a Breeder Licensing Scheme in NSW and across the country, which would allow an independent body to survey and shut down puppy breeders. Puppies need to be guaranteed exercise, water, food and more than one staff member to look after hundreds of dogs. The RSCPA has a petition with these goals that has been signed by over a 100, 000 people.

By tightening legislation, not only would puppies be treated better, there would be fewer puppies killed when they cannot find a home. If puppies have to be given more space to run free in, better medical treatment, and better conditions in general, fewer people will be able to run puppy factories in their backyard due to financial barriers in addition to legal barriers.

But before there is legislation, there has to be awareness. In a poll conducted by the Animal Welfare League of NSW, only half of respondents knew about puppy farms. One dog will continue to be euthanised every four minutes in Australia until people refuse to buy unethical puppies by checking if a breeder has been approved by the RSPCA, and until people demand action from the government.

The Animal Health Alliance says that there are about 4.2 million pet dogs in Australia. Surely these millions of owners should care about fixing the industry that does not do enough to protect the animals they claim to love.