Sheltered Abuse: Legislation is Needed to Prevent ‘Farmers’ from exploiting Puppies for Profit


by Eilidh Cormack


Executive Summary

  • This article argues that so-called puppy farms, or puppy mills, breed dogs (and sometimes cats, too) in horrendous and cruel conditions that must be stamped out.
  • There are currently 70 legal puppy farms in Victoria, and it is estimated a further 100 illegal mills operate across the state.
  • It is suggested that 50 percent of dogs in Australia started life in a puppy farm.
  • This article explores how current legislation for the prevention of cruelty towards animals only covers the provision of food, water, and shelter, and the physical abuse of animals.
  • Current legislation means that it is legal to breed dogs repeatedly from their first season without break, in unsanitary conditions, with insufficient mental or physical stimulation.
  • There are many ways to be cruel that are not illegal due to the laxity, unspecific, and limited legislation currently in place.
  • This article discusses how far better legislation is needed in order to eradicate the cruelty typically associated with puppy mills.
  • It also argues that more education of the public is needed.

According to a January 2010 discussion paper produced by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA):

Puppy farming is the indiscriminate breeding of dogs on a large scale for the purposes of sale.  Puppy farms are essentially commercial operations with an emphasis on production and profit with little or no consideration given to the welfare of the animals.  Puppy farms are intensive systems with breeding animals and their puppies kept in facilities that fail to meet the animals’ psychological, behavioural, social or physiological needs.  As a result many of these animals have a very poor quality of life.

There is a lack of legislation in Australia protecting our domesticated animals. There is legislation against animal cruelty, but this only covers violence against an animal and the provision of food, water, and shelter. There are many other ways to be cruel. For instance, over-breeding, lack of sanitation, zero exercise, zero mental stimulation, and a lack of veterinary attention all are forms of cruelty, which, under current legislation, are legal. And all of these issues are occurring in puppy farms across Australia today. Current legislation only covers the very basics of care, meaning owners must provide adequate food, water, and shelter. What is ‘adequate’, however, is open to interpretation. For example, it was recently found that an owner of a puppy farm was providing adequate shelter to dogs that he had chained to cars in freezing temperatures because the judge determined that the dogs could crawl underneath the cars for shelter. In many puppy farms, dogs are kept in wire cages about the size of carry cages, above the ground with only bars to stand on, so owners do not have to clean out the cages. Most of these dogs will barely ever touch the ground during their lifetime. Yet, inexplicably, somehow this is not deemed by law to constitute cruelty. Everyone knows that dogs need exercise, but technically it is legal to keep a dog in a cage for 23 hours and 40 minutes a day. Most animals will not even get the 20 minutes a day that is law. Current legislation does not enable the proper inspection of puppy farms and the enforcement of current legislation. Existing animal cruelty laws need to be more specific, with clear guidelines on sanitation, shelter, and exercise plus greater powers for inspectors to access breeding facilities and intervene wherever necessary.

Every year in Australia the pet industry rakes in millions of dollars in the sale of animals and products. We love our pets and lavish them with expensive food, toys, and bedding.  But cruelty often surrounds the origins of our beloved pets. Most people have heard of puppy mills or puppy farms, where dogs are bred in often appalling conditions. What many Australians do not realise, however, is the prevalence of puppy mills across the country and also the methods used to sell the puppies. The RSPCA defines a puppy mill or puppy farm as ‘an intensive dog breeding facility that is operated under inadequate conditions that fail to meet the dogs’ behavioural, social and/or physiological needs’.  There are over 70 legal puppy farms in Victoria, and it is estimated that a further 100 illegal operations are set up across this state alone. Recently introduced legislation, which requires the registration and micro-chipping of all dogs before sale, is designed to make it difficult for unregistered puppy farms to operate and increase authorities’ ability to track illegal puppy mills. This is a fantastic initiative, but it does not address the most basic problem. Even registered legal puppy mills keep dogs in abhorrent conditions, forcing them to breed their entire lives without rest until their body literally gives in to exhaustion. This still is legal and there is nothing under the current prevention of animal cruelty laws that dictates the standard of care for such animals. There is nothing about sanitation, physical exercise, rest periods between breeding cycles, psychological stimulation, coat care, minimum size of enclosure, or maximum numbers of litters mothers should have. Consequently, many animals in puppy farms live in cramped cages full of faeces with matted and filthy fur and no natural light. Most animals have a combination of ear infections, eye infections or blindness, painful mats, prolapsed uteruses, gum disease, rotten teeth, and severe malnutrition. Since the new legislation was introduced in 2011 to ‘crack down’ on puppy farms, not one puppy farm has been shut down.

Dogs have been kept for human purposes for thousands of years. Indeed, they have been an important factor in most human societies, domesticated and bred for several different purposes including hunting, herding, and protecting. Today, they serve in search and rescue operations, as guide dogs, in border protection, as drug sniffers, bomb detectors, and attack dogs for policing purposes, and as rehabilitation animals. They have been ‘man’s best friend’ and yet, as we have developed, our treatment of our animals has not progressed. In days gone by, the breeding of dogs mainly took place in the dog’s natural way or by ‘upper class’ selection. Yes, cruelty did no doubt occur by today’s standards but in comparison to how far society has come, the welfare of our animals has not made half the progress. The average person loves their pet but is ignorant of the standard of life in which they were born. The average person would never condone the standards of the average puppy farm and yet the law has not caught up with the public expectation of minimum standard of care. It is calculated that there are over 400 million dogs living with us in the world; and here in Australia it is estimated that roughly half of all dogs started life in a puppy farm.

Historically, many breeds of dog were only allowed to be owned and bred by the upper classes of society. Most people could simply not afford to feed a dog and therefore the canine population was controlled. With the increasing affluence of society, dogs became more affordable.  Their purpose also changed. Historically, dogs were working animals with a few societies keeping certain breeds specifically as companion animals. Over time, however, this reversed to the majority being kept as companion animals and the minority being kept for working purposes. With the increase in demand for animals it became commercially viable to farm companion animals. This is where puppy mills came into being.  They provide a cheap alternative to traditional breeders. They are able to be cheaper largely by cutting corners in animal care. Traditional, responsible breeders breed only a few animals in a home environment and only from animals who are healthy and do not have any genetic defects. They will specialise in one or two particular breeds, aiming to improve the genetic stock of these pedigree animals. A good breeder will offer lifelong support including the option of re-homing the animal should you become unable or unwilling to care for it. Breeders are responsible and interested at every stage in the animal’s welfare, and most will ask many questions of a potential owner to ensure that they are capable of caring for the animal. If they do not think you are suitable, you will not be allowed to buy one of their animals. In complete opposition to this approach, puppy mills do not care who buys their animals. Livestock are a commodity, and all the owners care about is the bottom line. They provide sub-standard care in order to maximise profits.

There are many animal welfare groups dedicated to the eradication of puppy farms and the care of breeding stock. Animal Liberation Victoria, Oscar’s Law, the RSPCA, Animals Australia, Puppy Watch and Puppy Prisoner are a notable few. Oscar’s Law calls for the abolition of the factory farming of companion animals, a ban on the sale of companion animals from pet shops and online trading sites, and the promotion of adoption through rescue groups, pounds, and shelters. Oscar’s Law founder Debra Tranter argues that puppy mills directly contribute to the 160,000 dogs killed every year in Australian pounds and shelters. Puppy factories and pet shops help cause the animal over population, which leads to the killing of dogs in shelters. Although every dog must have a permit, there is no limit to the amount of dogs a person can own. Raids on puppy farms have found some properties with over 700 breeding dogs. Tranter claims that a puppy farm typically will have between 200 and 300 breeding females and roughly 50 males, and the owner will earn approximately $450,000 per annum from the sale of the puppies produced.

Puppies from puppy farms are unfortunately often weaned from their mothers between 4 and 5 weeks old, not the 6 weeks that is necessary for physical and social development. Social development is also compromised by the mothers’ quality of life. The mothers, who are unsocialised and psychologically damaged, are bred from their first season at 6 months of age (before they are fully mature) and are bred without any proper recovery break until they are unable to produce puppies. Subsequently, mothers pass physical and psychological problems on to their puppies. This feeds the cycle of abandonment as psychological problems lead owners to dump their animals or give them to a shelter due to ‘bad behaviour’.  Current legislation prohibits the dumping of animals who are reliant upon the owner for food, water, and shelter, yet an owner can legally shoot an animal that is unable to breed anymore due to inadequate care and over breeding.

The Pet Industry Association of Australia (PIAA) has recently condemned the selling of irresponsibly farmed companion animals, and has issued a guarantee that if, at any stage of its life an animal sold through a PIAA member becomes unwanted or abandoned, it will be re-homed. While this may show the beginnings of change in the pet shop industry, it is not a source of much comfort yet. PIAA members have agreed to source animals only from ‘responsible breeders whose operations are subject to independent audit each year’. In other words, they will only source animals from registered legal puppy farms. These farms are indeed audited every year, but most have many forms of cruelty occurring yet cannot be shut down due to the laxity of current legislation. So, yes, PIAA members will source animals from audited breeders, but that does not necessarily mean they will source from cruelty-free breeders.  Add to this the fact that only about 25 percent of Australian pet shops are PIAA members and this promise does little to comfort.

Puppy farms will continue to be used precisely because they are capable of providing enough pups to keep up with consumer demand and their relatively low costs due to the large number of animals kept. If truly responsible breeders were used, costs would be far higher, meaning fewer would sell and the wait on animals would be longer. Typically, a responsible breeder will have homes for an entire litter before the puppies are even born.  They will have only one or two breeding females, who, depending on the breed, will have a maximum of 4 or 5 litters, to ensure the health of the mother (and, by extension, the pups). Once finished breeding, all animals are de-sexed and either kept in the home with the family or placed in one, not taken out the back and shot. The puppies are cared for in the home for a minimum of 6 weeks, usually longer, in order to be with their mother and the rest of the litter to learn proper behaviour. All are vaccinated, wormed, de-flead, micro-chipped, and generally tested for genetic diseases such as hip dysplasia.

Notably, the RSPCA is against puppy farms. It recently published a report on puppy farms, calling for changes to current legislation. The RSPCA has identified six key changes to be made if puppy farming is to be ended. It calls for the registration of dog breeders, compulsory microchipping of all dogs before 12 weeks of age and prior to sale or transfer, microchip ID number of dog’s mother and breeder registration number must be recorded on a pup’s microchip, breeder registration number must be displayed at the point of sale and in all advertisements, mandatory standards for the conduct of dog breeding and power for courts to make interim ownership, costs and prohibition orders while legal proceedings are on foot. Some of these recommendations were put into effect, including the micro chipping of all puppies by the breeder so an animal can be traced from the breeder and thus stamp out illegal puppy farms. This recently occurred in one state in the United States and received criticism as at least two illegal breeders dumped their dogs at the side of the road. But the reality is that this was the best possible outcome for these dogs, for now they can receive veterinary care and find a loving home. This is a small step towards stamping out puppy farms. In 2012, the Republic of Ireland outlawed the farming of companion animals after being mocked as the ‘puppy farm of Europe’.  Australia needs to follow suit, banning the mass farming of companion animals.

The debate about eggs that arose in the 1990s — about the ethics of battery hens — led to the labelling of all packaged eggs as free range, barn-laid, or caged. The result is that most consumers are aware of how hens are kept, and can choose to buy eggs which have been laid in a particular environment, therefore supporting the ethical treatment of hens.  Recently both Safeway and Coles supermarkets have announced that they will no longer use cage eggs in their Homebrand line, and Woolworths have decided to decrease the number of cage egg brands they will stock on their shelves. The RSPCA believes this sends a ‘strong market signal to producers that demand for higher welfare products is strong and will only grow’.  This decision by supermarkets is in response to consumer pressure and choice. It follows the shift already occurring overseas, as major UK supermarkets Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer now refuse to stock cage eggs in toto.  The same pressure can be put on puppy farms. Puppy farms sell their animals through pet shops, newspapers, and the internet. Animal Liberation Victoria claims that since it started its campaign to end puppy farming, sales through pet shops have decreased 25 percent due to added awareness. People need to be made more aware that almost all animals sold through a pet shop originate from puppy farms, and the best way to stop puppy farms is to no longer buy from them and put them out of business. If people are interested in buying a dog, they can still purchase one from a reputable breeder or from a shelter. As recently as October 2012, PETSco pet shop has entered into partnership with the Geelong Animal Welfare Society (GAWS), to help re-home abandoned and surrendered dogs and cats with their Save a Pet program. GAWS gives animals of all ages to the pet shop to display for adoption. In less than a month, PETSco re-homed 14 animals.

If the abhorrent treatment of factory-farmed companion animals is to end, and our animals to be given a good start to life, legislation must be tightened further, become more specific, and more comprehensive. Legislation must cover cleanliness of the animal, its bedding and its enclosure, exercise, natural light, breaks for females between litters, a maximum number of litters a female can have, a minimum age which puppies can be taken from their mother, a minimum age where breeding of a female can begin, the re-homing of animals who can no longer breed, and greater powers for the RSPCA and other authorities to take animals away and issue infringements. From there, finally we can look at the outlawing of factory-farming of companion animals and save any more animals from living in this abusive industry.



Selected further reading:

Department of Primary Industries, Victoria: www.dpi.com.au

Oscar’s Law: www.oscarslaw.org

Pet Industry Association of Australia: www.piaa.com.au

RSPCA: www.rspca.com.au

© APH Network and contributors 2012. All rights reserved.


Citation: Eilidh Cormack, Sheltered Abuse: Legislation is Needed to Prevent ‘Farmers’ from exploiting Puppies for Profit. Australian Policy and History. October 2012.

URL: http://www.aph.org.au/sheltered-abuse

Permanent link to this article: http://aph.org.au/sheltered-abuse