An owner’s heartache, a breeder’s profit, and a puppy’s fight to live.
One of the most frightening things about puppy farming is that it is an organised crime. The unscrupulous breeders running these farms are master manipulators and therefore it isn’t always easy to spot one.
By now, most of us know that it is important to visit the puppies at the breeder’s home, to ask to see the pup’s mum and littermates, and to check that both parents have been health screened for hereditary conditions relevant to their breed.
However, the breeders also know all of the questions a buyer might ask and they prepare for it. After all, there are huge sums of money to be made. So how do we possibly avoid them?
Leanne was one person who thought she had done all of her due diligence when purchasing her gorgeous Golden Retriever, only to arrive home with one very sick puppy.
Leanne told us: “Like most people now, I was aware of the puppy farming industry, and understood the importance of visiting the puppies and checking a breeder’s records before making the commitment to buy.”
“I found our breeder on the internet. I chose them because the advert said the breeder owned both the mum and the dad, and both dogs were Kennel Club registered, as the puppies would be once born. When you see the well-respected Kennel Club name used, it tends to fill you with confidence.
"The puppies were advertised at £1,400 with Kennel Club papers, full health history, family tree papers and pedigree, which filled us with reassurance that we would take home a happy, healthy puppy – the fact that he would have Kennel Club papers assured us that he was coming from a responsible breeder.”
After the puppies had been born, and reached four weeks old, Leanne and her husband were invited to visit them at the breeder’s home.
When they arrived, nothing seemed to be too far out of the ordinary. The puppies were all together in a pen inside the house. The mum and dad were in an outdoor enclosure in the garden away from the puppies.
Leanne recalls: “I did wonder why the puppies weren’t interacting with their mum but I was told that she was having a break from them to allow her some rest. This seemed reasonable given that she had a litter of eight to care for!
"I went outside to see Mum and it was clear from her teats that she had recently given birth, so I didn’t feel I had reason to question the breeder any further.” Leanne chose her puppy and reserved him.
Over the next four weeks, the process continued in the way most people would expect it to.
The breeder kept Leanne informed of any veterinary visits the puppies had, and when the puppies were eight-weeks-old Leanne and her husband were invited to collect their gorgeous puppy, who they were told had been given a full vet check earlier that day and given a full bill of health.
However, disaster struck just a couple of days after their pup, now called Odie, arrived home.
Leanne remembers: “When I look back, he wasn’t right from the moment we got him home. He was suffering with runny stools but we just put it down to the change in environment for him.
"But as more time passed, we also began to notice that he wasn’t drinking a great deal and he was off his food. Two days later his stools had only got worse, becoming translucent in colour and we really started to worry.”
Leanne took Odie to her vets to find out what the problem was. It transpired that he was suffering from three different parasites, which were causing his gastro troubles, and had a bad case of ear mites.
It was clear to the vet that these problems had occurred before Leanne had brought Odie home, and therefore would have been diagnosed in his final vet check.
Leanne told us: “The next few months were really tough. We were prescribed medication to help Odie as much as we could but he was severely ill.
"He struggled to keep food down, his diarrhoea continued and we couldn’t convince him to drink enough to replenish the liquids he was losing.
“Of course, he also couldn’t have his vaccinations while his health was so poor, so he wasn’t allowed to interact with other dogs at a critical stage of his development. He was such a happy little soul, so eager to play and learn, despite feeling so poorly.
"I spent all the spare time I had training him, handling and grooming him, playing with him and administering his prescribed medication. I would wake up at regular intervals throughout the night to make sure he was okay and to clean up any mess he’d made due to his illness. I just remember feeling so helpless and desperate find a way to help him recover.”
Just over a month after going home, Odie’s health took a serious turn for the worst and he was rushed in to the Royal Veterinary College for urgent treatment.
He was kept overnight at the RVC, where he was put on a drip to cure chronic dehydration. At this point, Odie’s future was uncertain and Leanne and her husband were left holding their breath, praying that he would make it through the night.
Thankfully, Odie did make it through the night and following his treatment at the Royal Veterinary College, his health finally began to improve. Over the next month, he gradually got better and better until he was finally able to receive his vaccinations and start to live like a normal, healthy, happy young dog.
Leanne tried to get back in contact with his breeder to explain the difficulties they had been experiencing with Odie and to ask if any of the other puppies in his litter had experienced similar health problems. The breeder never came back to her, and she hasn’t ever heard from them since.
Today, Odie is 16-months-old with a full bill of health.
Of her experience, Leanne told us: “It’s still impossible to say whether the breeder we bought Odie from was linked to a puppy farm or if they were just an irresponsible breeder, who had no interest in what happened to the puppies after they got their money.
"However, it has made me realise that puppy farming and irresponsible breeding is much more of a problem than I had originally thought and that people will lie and use underhand tactics gain your trust.
“We wouldn’t change Odie for the world but it does make us sad that he spent so much of his early life feeling so unwell, and that he didn’t really get to enjoy puppyhood.
"We’re definitely making up for that now and are determined to provide him with everything he needs for the happy future he deserves.”
Last month, history was made when the government agreed to the Lucy’s Law campaign to end puppy farming, which will result in a ban on selling puppies and kittens in pet shops and other third party outlets.
It means anyone wishing to buy a puppy or kitten under six months old will have to deal directly with the breeder or with an animal rehoming centre.
NAWT understand that sometimes it is the right choice for a family to decide to get a puppy rather than a rescue dog because there are fewer puppies in rescue.
With that in mind, we have created a puppy buyer’s checklist to help people avoid unscrupulous breeders.
We would also recommend purchasing your puppy from a Kennel Club Assured Breeder. This is a scheme run by the Kennel Club, in which they inspect every breeder, in order to ensure it is recognised as the essential quality seal for puppy breeding and buying.