Welcome to the Puppy Farm Capital - Ireland
February 2004 -The Irish Times
they raided the house, the Dachshunds were everywhere in sealed
containers, closed boxes, dumped in a van, in stinking dark rooms in an
unheated, derelict house, clumps of hair missing, ribs showing, infested with
hundred little sausage dogs, adults and tiny puppies, were being 'farmed' in
County Tipperary. The story of last weeks raid by the ISPCA in conjunction with
the Ulster and Dublin SPCAs was prominent in the news, triggering 5,000
compassionate calls to the ISPCA, offering homes to the dogs.
miserable dachshunds are part of a grim industry that must rank as Ireland's
darkest, bleakest 'agricultural' secret. Not only are such farms not unusual,
but, say international animal welfare authorities, Ireland is Europe's
perhaps the world's puppy farm capital. Here, cheap, poor quality purebred
dogs are mass-produced by the hundreds in cages, bitches bred and bred
successively until they drop. Ireland also has the highest per capita rate of
stray dog euthanasia in the EU, with 23,000 dogs put down annually.
this is, is the factory farming of puppies,' says Alastair Keen, head of
operations for the ISPCA and the man who closed down the dachshund farm. 'These
are immoral breeding operations.' He estimates Ireland has as many as 100 such
operations, some with as many as 500 to 700 dogs. Closing them is an ISPCA
is a haven for puppy farms because not a single piece of legislation exists to
control them or protect the welfare of the dogs, besides the Dog Act – intended
for pet owners, not commercial operations that operate in a grey area of
legitimacy. Nothing limits how long the dogs may be bred, or how many times.
They can be kept in any enclosure; there's no rule that they must have outdoor
runs or in the case of indoor breeds that they be kept warm indoors.
EU chickens have more rights; livestock farmers have more legal
last month the ISPCA had only a single inspector (now there are five). As a
result, says Keen, few puppy farmers (called 'millers' in the US) have to fear a
raid, and keep the dogs in dreadful conditions, often ill and unkempt and filthy
in their own feces, held in wire crates or makeshift kennels in cold, damp farm
outbuildings, some held inside in dark, windowless rooms.
are sold through brokers to pet buyers, at premium prices but always just below
what reputable breeders charge, in Britain and North America, and to a lesser
extent, Europe. Profits can be huge.
who came from the RSPCA and who has a pet mongrel himself, knows of four puppy
farms in close proximity in the Midlands, where he recently tried to close down
the worst. Though conditions were grim, Keen can only act on clear examples of
cruelty, and keeping dogs in what many would consider revolting circumstances
does not, in Ireland's unlicensed, unregulated system, constitute cruelty.
'He has 500
breed dogs. I doubt any are vaccinated or have ever been seen by a vet. It's a
time bomb waiting to happen. Yet I had to walk away because there's no cruelty'.
synonymous with puppy farming. It is the most vile despicable trade in misery,'
says one reputable dog breeder in Northern Ireland. 'Here in the North dealers
are bringing puppies from farms in the South to either sell here or take them by
ferry to the mainland via Scotland.'
puppy transporter is Irish farmer John Walsh, the man who was jailed for
illegally importing sheep into Armagh during the foot and mouth epidemic, sheep
that later were found to have the disease.
he pleaded guilty to causing unnecessary suffering to 49 puppies, found in poor
condition in his van arriving by ferry into Scotland. Nine needed emergency vet
reported last month that raids had netted 'hundreds' of Irish puppies in
shipments of 50-100 at UK ferry ports, from Irish puppy farms comprising
hundreds of dogs kept in squalid conditions.
breeders in the US say brokers middlemen who buy up the puppies for resale
regularly receive large shipments of Irish
puppies of breeds that are costly in the US, such as the Cavalier King Charles
Spaniel. These dogs are shipped without quarantine requirements or scrutiny
because Ireland is a rabies-free country.
Gabriele Pollmeier, a US-based breeder who lived in Ireland for 10 years and is
familiar with the system, 'a fairly large number of brokers regularly bring
[Cavaliers] in from Ireland, and sell them here via the Internet or the
newspapers to unsuspecting buyers.' She has witnessed a shipment of 25 puppies
at Atlanta's airport that were underage and
a sight. Poor things. They were on their way from a [puppy farm] in Ireland -
had left Shannon that morning and were to fly on to Dallas to a well-known
broker,' she says.
Irish dogs are also used to stock US puppy mills because, unlike dogs that come from reputable breeders, they carry no breeding restrictions (a ‘neuter’ clause). US sources feel some reputable Irish breeders are unknowingly selling dogs to mills and brokers in the US, believing they are for American families.
Says one US
breeder: 'Here in the Minnesota area Irish dogs have such a bad rap that if
buyers find out your foundation stuff came from Ireland they class it with
trash.' Another reports her friend's sickly, Irish 'champion-bred' dogs bought
from a puppy farm broker had worthless, forged Irish Kennel Club papers. Such
dogs are frequently offered on US websites by known brokers who claim 'Irish
relatives' send them the dogs. The trade is hugely damaging to the many
reputable professional Irish dog breeders.
dogs that come from the farms are typically ill or inbred or behaviourally
disturbed,' says Keen. With little contact with humans in crucial early weeks
when socialization to humans is essential, animal welfare workers say such dogs
end up difficult to housetrain and socialize, and then are abandoned, dumped in
shelters and pounds (see accompanying story below).
commercial operations to be licensed by the State, with clear rules on how dogs
should be housed and maintained, and mandatory inspections. Reputable breeders
say mass shippers of dogs should need vet clearances from a certified state vet.
And auctions of breeding dogs should be illegal.
Ireland say the Irish Kennel Club could do more by publishing a regular gazette
of IKC puppy registrations, which would reveal the farms and their bloodlines
for buyers and sellers. Many US and UK breed clubs, as well as the reputable
kennel clubs, do this.
that during his time with the RSPCA, dogs they seized that came from puppy farms
– even UK-based farms – typically had faked IKC registration papers. The IKC
says it is aware of the puppy farm issue and fake registrations.
problem is there's very little legislation," says press relations officer
Wendy Jackson. The IKC would support a licensing and inspection system, she
says. The club has only recently begun to computerize its registration records,
which will help it identify possible puppy farms. But Jackson says it is not
knowingly processing registrations for farmed dogs, and that it only registers a
modest number of dogs annually.
Department of the Environment, under whose aegis the Dog Act falls, says it is
in discussion with the ISPCA on steps that could be taken to address the farms.
But like the Irish people, the Department seemed unaware of the scale of
problem in Ireland is that many people 'don't see anything wrong with what the
puppy farms are doing,” sighs one animal welfare worker who has seen the
horrors inside the farms. 'Animal
welfare in Ireland is quite behind the times. Just look at how many dogs we put
down every year.'
But that may
be changing. The ISPCA just introduced a National Cruelty Helpline, which in
January alone clocked 8,000 calls. But without greater legal powers, the ISPCA
will have little chance of combating the misery of the puppy farms, and, for
now, we seem content to turn our backs on thousands of small lives.
and Helena Le Mahieu live their lives to a daily chorus of dozens of barking
dogs. The Dutch couple are high in the Wicklow Mountains where, on the first day
that they moved here over a decade ago, they took in a stray chicken, a cat and
was the beginning of ASH which stands for Animal Sanctuary Hubasha which now
looks after and, hopefully, place on average 70 dogs and another 20 cats. Some
are permanent residents, along with a goose, a donkey and a horse.
absolutely love animals,' says Helena. 'And there is a huge, huge need for
someone to take care of stray and unwanted animals.'
rescue groups like ASH, Kilkenny's Inistioge Puppy Rescue, PAWS in Co Kildare,
and West Cork Animal Welfare Group provide essential services to an Irish animal
welfare system that is underfunded and understaffed compared to most EU
contrasts Ireland, where 20 per cent of dogs are impounded and 85 per cent of
those -- an extraordinary 23,000 dogs annually will be euthanised (the
highest per capita rate in Europe), to the UK. There, only 5 per cent of dogs
end up in shelters, and only 20 per cent of those will be put down.
huge part of the problem is that people seem determined not to spay and neuter,
she says, adding the excuse is often that 'it's not natural. But look: it's not
natural to put down so many dogs a year.
sometimes call ASH to see if they can leave in a now-unwanted pet, typically
using the excuse that 'it needs a better home than the one I can provide'
in lieu of actually trying to provide that home themselves.
worse is when the animals are dumped in their yard. ASH ends up with boxes of
tiny puppies, traumatized unwanted pets, and sick animals in this way. ASH now
has a van it uses to collect animals as well.
October in one long weekend, we picked up 14 unwanted collies, all from local
sources,' sighs Helena. 'It's getting worse and worse.' Irish people
particularly seem indifferent to their pet collies, lurchers and Labradors dogs
that ASH can sometimes place in UK homes.
earns some income for ASH -- Ř80 per dog -- by bringing dogs from the various
rescues over to UK families in the van. They also receive a small grant from the
Department of the Environment. Otherwise, ASH is funded entirely through
donations, and the money the Le Mahieus got from remortgaging their house after
Remi left his job to help Helena out full time.
The cost of running ASH annually? Ř15,000 each in vet and transport bills, Ř10,000 in food, and Ř6,000 in miscellaneous costs. At the moment they are so swamped with dogs that they cannot take in any more and are asking for volunteers to help walk dogs, clean kennels anything to lessen the burden placed on these custodians of other's. irresponsibility.
Animal Rescue: +353 (0)59 647-3396, www.ashanimalrescue.com
animal rescue information: www.irishanimals.com
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