Cruel puppy farms hiding in plain sight
A NUMBER of dodgy puppy farm operators have been shut down thanks to law reform and growing consumer awareness, but the internet is feeding a renewed boom in the cruel practice.
Animal welfare groups have expressed concern about the growing trend of pets being sold via classified websites, where callous breeders can operate in plain sight without consequences.
Four Paws Australia is lobbying Gumtree, the biggest trading site in Australia, owned by global web retail giant eBay, to introduce a code of conduct to help prevent cruelty.
"Mothers in puppy farms are treated like breeding machines and are victims of serious welfare abuses, from overcrowding and unhygienic conditions to early infant separation," Four Paws Australia spokeswoman Elise Burgess told news.com.au.
The term "puppy farm" might conjure up images of a rural setting where expectant canine mums have plenty of space to roam before happily giving birth.
But in reality, they more closely resemble factories where dogs are kept in cramped and nightmarish surrounds, treated like machinery rather than a sentient creature.
"There are often health complications due to being kept in terrible conditions and a lack of veterinary care. Mothers also suffer a lot of emotional trauma through repeated pregnancies and birthing, and their young being ripped away far too early," Ms Burgess said.
For those paying top dollar for puppies bred in these surrounds, there are often long-term complications too.
"It can result in high vet bills and in some cases, death just a few weeks or months after they've been brought home," Ms Burgess said.
A number of states have introduced legislation to ban the practice of puppy farming, while others have committed to reform.
Successive surveys have shown that the majority of Australians support tougher regulation of breeders to ensure bother mothers and puppies are properly cared for.
"But with the rise of people buying animals online, it's easy for puppy farm operators to conceal their activities and present themselves as qualified, registered breeders," Ms Burgess said.
"They use terminology lifted from proper, regulated breeders. They make it seem as though as the puppy and mother live in nice surrounds."
Online classified sites make it easy for dodgy operators to create multiple accounts and use clever wording and sometimes fake pictures to portray themselves as above board.
Right now, there are 76,000 animals advertised for sale on Gumtree's Australians website.
"The multiple fake accounts hide the fact that they might be selling up to 50 puppies. They present a whole fictional backstory to make it seem like the puppy lives on Old MacDonald's Farm when in reality they're from a factory."
Four Paws Australia has launched a petition calling on Gumtree and other online classified providers, including social media marketplaces on Facebook, to adopt a code of practice.
"There needs to be some sort of animal seller identify verification process," Ms Burgess said.
"Gumtree in the UK just did this. They charge a very small fee to check your identity. It protects the animals, as well as legitimate breeders and consumers."
The group has also produced a checklist for puppy buyers to ensure they consider all factors before bringing a furry friend home.
In a statement, Gumtree Australia said it was committed to facilitate the "safe, responsible and successful" trade of pets that benefited sellers, buyers and animals.
"Every month thousands of pets find new homes through Gumtree," a spokesperson said.
"Animal welfare is a huge priority for Gumtree and that is why we work in collaboration with the government, law enforcement and animal welfare organisations including the RSPCA.
"Gumtree does not support puppy or kitten mills and is committed to removing any ads found to be practising this sort of activity."
It encouraged any users who come across suspicious listings to report them for review.
"We encourage prospective buyers to read the RSPCA's Smart Puppy and Kitten Buyer guides, which are available on our site.
"We encourage buyers to meet the breeder and animal in-person, meet the animal's mother and to view all required documentation before committing to buy an animal."
Ms Burgess said pet buyers made to feel uncomfortable when asking questions of sellers should be immediately suspicious.
"There are reputable and licensed breeders out there. They want you to ask questions. They want to help you make the right decision.
"If you're made to feel uncomfortable asking questions, you should think about why. Just because an animal is advertised online, doesn't mean something bad is happening automatically, but you should ask questions and do your homework."