Opinion: Ireland doesn’t have to be the puppy farm capital of Europe

Opinion: Ireland doesn't have to be the puppy farm capital of Europe

Hannah Unger and Dearbhla Walsh

Fieldfisher associate Hannah Unger and solicitor Dearbhla Walsh propose reforms to Irish dog breeding legislation.

As Christmas draws closer and people across Ireland consider whether a puppy could be the perfect gift, it is important to take a moment and consider whether this is a right decision to make.

Statistics released by the Department of Rural and Community Development show that 7,352 dogs entered Irish pounds last year, up 77 per cent from 2021. Moreover, 340 dogs were euthanised in Irish pounds, twice as many as 2021.

This shocking figure comes as the ISPCA estimates that 30,000 puppies a year are being produced in Irish puppy factories. This figure does not take account of the number of puppies who are born to backyard breeders, illegal puppy farmers or registered sellers, which, according to the DSPCA, is around 70,000 per year.

A significant number of these puppies will be bought and sold this month and many will end up being dumped or surrendered to rescue centres in January.

The poor regulatory framework has created a €187 million industry and resulted in Ireland being a huge exporter of puppies to more tightly regulated countries.

Aside from welfare concerns, this industry presents a range of other issues such as tax avoidance, given the high level of cash transactions; environmental concerns, due to the high level of waste produced by hundreds of dogs on site; spread of diseases and fraudulent practices.

An overhaul of Ireland’s legislation is necessary, beginning with simple reforms that would bring about long overdue and meaningful change.

Currently, the responsibility for dog breeding sits with two government departments — Agriculture and Rural Community and Development. Bringing it under one would provide for greater oversight, regulation and enforcement.

Incentivising neutering such as reducing fees for licences for neutered dogs as is the case in Singapore and providing greater funding to rescues and individuals for neutering as is the case in Victoria, Australia, could go a long way to reducing the volume of puppies in Ireland.

A centralised oversight body is crucial, but increasing oversight of local authorities is where fundamental change occurs. Streamlining a framework across all local authorities who are currently responsible for registration, enforcement and inspection of dog breeding establishments (DBE) would ensure uniform enforcement. As a matter of best practice, an independent regulator should be established similar to the South Australian Dog and Cat Board.

All of this can only occur with the tightening of legislation. Dog breeding is governed by two key pieces of legislation, the Dog Breeding Establishments Act 2010 and the Animal Health and Welfare (Sale or Supply of Pet Regulations) 2019. Anyone who keeps six or more breeding bitches on their premises (female dogs older than six months) must register as a DBE, colloquially known as “puppy factories”. Conversely, any person who has five breeding bitches or fewer but sells six or more dogs a year must register as a seller under the 2019 Regulations.

There is currently a bill seeking to amend the 2010 Act before the Dáil at the second stage, however, this has not progressed since May 2021. While many reforms set out in this bill are welcome, there is further room for improvement.

DBE operators often use “stunt locations” to sell puppies, giving the impression that they were bred in a family home. Lucy’s Law was introduced in the UK and prevents a dog being sold away from the premises in which it was bred, which should be followed in Ireland.

The DBE Guidelines 2018 were introduced to improve standards. However, they are not mandatory and there are no consequences for non-compliance.

There is currently no requirement for local authorities to publish inspection reports, resulting in a lack of transparency. Legislation should be amended to make publication mandatory.

A number of other measures, such as including a ratio of staff to dogs, capping the number of breeding bitches on a premises, setting age restrictions on dogs that can be bred, increasing inspections and increasing fines would bring about meaningful change.

If large-scale commercial dog breeding is phased out, many dogs will need to be re-homed and DBE owners compensated. To tackle this, greater funding will be needed for rescue organisations.

Ireland’s unenviable title as “puppy factory” capital of Europe does not have to continue. Through centralised policy generation, incentivised neutering, increased oversight of local authorities and stronger legislation, we can protect and enhance the welfare of dogs in Ireland.

However, before these changes are introduced, the safest and most ethical decision you can make is to adopt rather than purchasing a dog or puppy. Please be a part of the solution this Christmas and not part of the problem.​

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