Meeting date: Wednesday, December 20, 2017
Meeting of the Parliament 20 December 2017
Agenda: Alcohol and Drug-related Deaths, Portfolio Question Time, Energy Strategy, Ferry Services Procurement Policy Review, Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Dogs (Illegal Trade, Irresponsible Breeding and Adoption)
- Alcohol and Drug-related Deaths
- Portfolio Question Time
- Energy Strategy
- Ferry Services Procurement Policy Review
- Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3
- Business Motions
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Dogs (Illegal Trade, Irresponsible Breeding and Adoption)
Dogs (Illegal Trade, Irresponsible Breeding and Adoption)
The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-09167, in the name of Emma Harper, “Adopt Don’t Shop”. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament believes that, while dogs are the most popular companion animals in the UK, they are also a lucrative source of income for many; recognises concerns raised by academics from the University of Sheffield, in Scottish Government-commissioned research, that both the illegal trade in, and irresponsible breeding of, dogs are escalating; understands that central to these concerns are large-scale commercial breeders in Scotland, the illegal trafficking of dogs into the country, including through Cairnryan Port, and the largely uncontrolled third-party online traders, who it considers now dominate the puppy trade; understands that there are currently thousands of dogs situated in rescue centres across Scotland who need homes; notes that reputable shelters are able to assess and support the rehoming of many breeds and ages of dog, and notes the view that anyone considering getting a puppy should adopt from a reputable shelter or rescue centre run by an organisation such as the Scottish SPCA.16:48
I am pleased to lead this debate, and thank my colleagues for supporting the motion and staying in the chamber to contribute this evening.
Last year, I led a debate about the cruel trade in puppy trafficking. In my region, many hundreds—even thousands—of puppies are trafficked illegally every year through the port of Cairnryan. The dogs come from puppy farms in Ireland, Northern Ireland and Europe. Both the bitches and the pups are kept in appalling conditions on those farms.
As I described last year, some intensive breeding sites have up to 500 breeding bitches and thousands of pups at any one time. Since I raised the issue in that debate, progress has been made. Last month, I attended the first ever K9 conference on puppy trafficking, which was organised by the Scottish SPCA and hosted by the University of Edinburgh.
The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform attended to launch the Scottish Government commissioned research which, unfortunately, confirmed that the number of puppies entering the United Kingdom in recent years has significantly increased due to consumer demand and changes in legislation that make it easier to transport pets.
There is debate about what is the best approach to tackling the puppy trade, and great work is being done in Scotland and across the UK by organisations such as the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Kennel Club, the Dogs Trust, OneKind and Blue Cross, and by Dr Marc Abraham. Campaigners in Stranraer Eileen Bryant, Raymond Carvill, Councillor Willie Scobie and Councillor Ros Surtees are also focused on tackling puppy smuggling at Cairnryan and are doing very worthwhile and commendable work locally.
Many see the banning of third-party sales as an important step in the right direction. Dr Marc Abraham is campaigning for the introduction of Lucy’s law at Westminster, which will ban third-party sales outright. The proposed legislation is named after spaniel Lucy, who was rescued from a puppy farm where she was abused as a breeding bitch for years. I am aware that some questions have been raised about the proposed legislation’s potential effectiveness, but it is certainly a worthwhile debate to have, perhaps in the future.
Today, I want to take this opportunity to talk about the importance of choosing to adopt a dog from a reputable rescue centre as a way of combating irresponsible breeders and illegal puppy traffickers. Although it can be tempting to buy a puppy from a breeder, I urge everyone to think first of all about giving a rescue dog a chance. Right now, we have far too many delightful dogs and cuddly cats living in shelters and needing homes but not enough people willing to adopt them. I have three wonderful rescue collies myself and can thoroughly recommend adoption as an alternative to buying. Moreover, according to the Dogs Trust, those who have rehomed a rescue dog will often wish to adopt again after finding the process incredibly worth while.
There are many advantages to choosing a rescue dog. Those who visit a rescue centre such as the canine rescue centre that I visited at Glencaple near Dumfries will be introduced to a wide variety of dogs of all shapes and sizes, and staff will make every effort to match the right dog to their needs. Canine carers who have spent time with and have carefully assessed the dogs will be able to give people a full character profile and help them make the right decision. The dog that they take home will be happy and healthy, as dogs from reputable shelters are neutered, microchipped and given a complete health check, including vaccinations and treatments for worms and fleas. Adopting a dog from a recognised dog charity also means that people have access to expert advice and support throughout the adoption process, even after they have taken their dog home.
Of course, there is very legitimate public concern regarding incidents of poor animal welfare in some so-called rescue centres. Many members will be aware of the appalling case of the Ayrshire Ark shelter earlier this year, where several dogs and cats were found dead from neglect. I am therefore pleased to welcome Scottish Government plans, launched earlier this month, to introduce a modern system of registration and licensing for animal sanctuaries and rehoming activities. Under the proposals, a straightforward licensing system will be introduced. Ministers are currently consulting on this programme for government commitment, and I urge anyone with an interest in animal welfare to respond to the consultation by 4 March and help shape these plans. I also note that Dumfries and Galloway Council’s trading standards department has introduced a trusted breeders scheme to monitor and promote good licensed breeding premises.
It is important to stress the gravity of any decision to bring a dog into a family. After all, dogs are intelligent, social animals with a wide variety of needs that people should be sure they can meet before making such a commitment. Christmas is a time of year that is synonymous with the impulse buying of cute, fluffy puppies as presents; we have all heard the saying “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas”, but not everyone fully understands the meaning behind it. Getting a dog means daily walks, feeding, grooming, training, not being able to go out for long periods of time, making monthly payments for pet insurance and, at times, paying hefty vet’s bills.
If, after careful consideration, someone decides to purchase a dog, it is vital that they take the time to investigate whether they are getting it from a reputable breeder. According to the Kennel Club, one in five people who buy a pup admit that they spent no time at all researching where to buy it, compared to less than one in 10—8 per cent—who are prepared to make a spontaneous decision about what shoes to buy. People are more likely to fall victim to scams and puppy farmers if they do not do their research, with almost a quarter—22 percent—of those who were surveyed by the Kennel Club saying that they thought they had gone to a puppy farm if they had chosen their pup in 20 minutes or less. The optimal way to avoid contributing to the illegal and cruel trade in dogs is to adopt from a registered shelter or to contact the Kennel Club or local authority for a list of assured breeders.
Again, I thank everyone who has stayed behind in the chamber tonight, and I welcome the debate to follow.
The debate is quite heavily subscribed, so I ask members to keep their speeches to no more than four minutes, please.16:54
I congratulate Emma Harper on bringing this very important debate to the chamber tonight.
As the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party’s spokesman on animal welfare, I have met many stakeholders throughout the year to discuss their concerns not only on how we can develop ways to promote stronger animal welfare regulation but on how we can heighten awareness of the options that people have to reduce, if not eliminate, animal suffering.
The laws on sentencing for animal cruelty in Scotland are different to those of other jurisdictions in the United Kingdom. The Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 gives courts the power to disqualify a person who has been convicted of cruelty from holding animals for a period that it thinks fit, including for life. Under the 2006 act, the maximum penalty for causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal is 12 months’ imprisonment or a fine of up to £20,000. The maximum penalty for other animal welfare offences is six months’ imprisonment or a fine of up to £5,000.
In its programme for government for 2017-18, the Scottish Government outlined plans to introduce a bill to increase the maximum prison sentence in serious abuse cases to five years. The Scottish Conservatives welcome such plans but believe that the Scottish Government could and should go further. We need to see more preventative measures being introduced, such as educating children on animal cruelty. Furthermore, we want the Scottish Government to tackle illegal puppy trafficking and to stop online traders and unlicensed pet shops. A robust guideline needs to accompany the new legislation to make people aware of how to spot signs of abuse and the best way to report it. Progress on that has been slow to date, but we will continue to push for more action. The Scottish Conservatives will monitor the progress of the new sentencing plans very closely and will continue to hold the Scottish Government to account over animal welfare.
It is clear that it is not just the Government that needs to tackle the evils of puppy smuggling and animal cruelty. The Scottish SPCA, the Dogs Trust and Rescue Dogs Scotland, to name just a few charities, can be partners in the fight against animal cruelty.
In my constituency of Galloway and West Dumfries, the Cairnryan port provides an access point for criminals to traffic dogs into Scotland and the rest of Great Britain illegally. It is vital that we educate the public on the illegal puppy trade through awareness of the tactics used by such criminals in selling farmed and abused puppies. An educational campaign must reach the geographical hotspots of the puppy trade such as Cairnryan in the south-west of Scotland.
The Scottish Government should ensure that any attempt to tackle illegal puppy trafficking draws on knowledge from the stakeholders that I have mentioned and from the RSPCA, whose campaign entitled adopt don’t shop has brought us together in the Parliament today to discuss this important issue.
With many families seeking a furry four-legged pal to join them this Christmas, I urge any potential puppy buyer to consider the following questions. Does the puppy demonstrate behavioural issues such as fear or aggression? Have you been able to visit the puppy’s home properly or to meet its mum and dad? Is there evidence that the puppy has received vaccinations or worming? Is the seller urging a fast transaction with no follow-up support? Those are things that buyers should look out for when purchasing a puppy, because they can be missed when buying through the illegal trade.
It was not the threat of fines that made drink-driving and smoking in public places unacceptable; it was peer pressure. It was pressure from someone’s neighbour telling them that they were doing the wrong thing. We need the public to become guardians for dogs and puppies by making puppy farms unacceptable in modern life.
In conclusion, if someone is concerned about potential puppy smuggling, I urge them to report it immediately to the Scottish SPCA on 0300 099 9999.16:59
I thank Emma Harper for bringing this very important subject to the chamber.
The key factors in this issue are the vile illicit trade in puppies and the thousands of unwanted dogs who are looking for a loving home. A person does not need to be a dog lover, as I am, to be horrified by puppy farms, as they represent cruelty on an industrial scale.
As Emma Harper said, puppies are being smuggled into ports after enduring journeys in horrific conditions. Apart from psychological trauma, many suffer from severe health issues. On one occasion, the Dogs Trust, which I will mention later, took in seven pups that were covered with infected wounds. Their ears and tails had been docked, apparently using scissors and vodka. That is just one example of what is a sickening industry.
Another problem is the demand for trendy puppies, which has created a massive black market. For example, certain breeds, such as the French bulldog, sell for nearly £400 in the Czech Republic but can be sold for more than £1,500 in the United Kingdom. That is an obscene sum of money for what to many owners is a designer accessory. Of course, the breeders are laughing all the way to the bank—if they can find one that is still open. The criminal gangs that are running the operations are understood to be taking in more than £100 million per year. Incredibly, at this time of year, there is a surge in demand for Christmas, which makes the debate timely. I will not trot out the cliché, but I think that we all know what it is.
I have had the privilege of being a dog owner for most of my life. As we all know, with their unconditional love and individual personalities dogs become members of the family. I whole-heartedly support the adopt don’t shop campaign, although I confess to being something of a hypocrite, as my labrador and retriever were bought from reputable breeders, of which there are many. Next time round, I will adopt, not shop.
The Kennel Club fully supports the message that those who are looking to buy a dog should consider a rescue dog. Indeed, the Kennel Club breed rescue organisations rehome approximately 24,000 dogs every year. They also share the concerns around puppy trafficking and irresponsible breeding. By adopting a dog, I know that it will be healthy, both physically and mentally, with full veterinary assessments having been carried out. The Dogs Trust, Battersea Dogs & and Cats Home, which cares for 4,000 unwanted dogs every year, the Scottish SPCA, Blue Cross and many other rescue organisations do fantastic work and should be congratulated for treating animals with the respect that they deserve. The link here to puppy abuse is clear: the more that people use rescue centres, the more illegal puppy farms will be stripped of demand.
The adopt don’t shop slogan is about promoting animal rights, and, before I finish, I will list the things that I believe should be stopped immediately if and when we have the power to do that: the appalling, widespread abuse of greyhounds in the racing industry; puppy farms; the online sale of animals; short sentences for those committing vile acts of cruelty; and politicians refusing to recognise animals as sentient beings. Our animals are with us for a very short time and they enrich our lives immeasurably. Let us treat them with respect and fight for their right to live a healthy life and be in a loving home.17:02
I congratulate Emma Harper on securing the debate and on all the work that she does on animal welfare.
The Dogs Trust was founded at Christmas in 1891, so it is particularly apt that we are having the debate on the day before the Parliament breaks for the Christmas recess. Rona Mackay made a very good point at the end of her speech when she referred to the crucial aspect of animals being sentient beings, which means that we need to be very careful about their welfare. At this time of year, when many families will be thinking about getting a puppy as a present for someone, it is vital that they have considered not only the responsibilities that they are taking on for life—Emma Harper made that point—but, as the Dogs Trust motto suggests, the ethics and standards of the person from whom they are purchasing the dog.
With puppy smuggling on the rise as well as the number of non-licensed shelters and private traders—a situation that is not helped by internet sales—the welfare of dogs and the legality of dog sales are huge issues. There are approximately 8.5 million dogs in the UK. Given that the average lifespan of a dog is 12 years, about 708,000 puppies are required each year to maintain that figure. The Kennel Club tells us that it registers around 220,000 puppies each year, and rescue organisations rehome approximately 65,000 dogs each year, but very few of those are puppies. There is, therefore, a shortfall of over 485,000 in the number of dogs required each year.
The Dogs Trust has carried out several investigations into puppy smuggling. Despite the introduction of the pet travel scheme, which allows pet dogs to enter the UK without the need for quarantine provided that they comply with the rules of travel and have a valid pet passport, the Dogs Trust has found that puppies continue to be imported illegally into the UK. On top of that, unlicensed breeders in the UK are better able to flourish than they were in the past thanks to the internet, where they can readily access a vast customer base. Online sellers are harder to track and trace, and they exist in such high numbers that animal welfare organisations cannot keep on top of them all.
That is a problem across the sale of all kinds of pets, not only dogs. In partnership with Blue Cross, OneKind and the Born Free Foundation, I have previously raised in Parliament the issues that surround the sale of exotic animals online. Given the higher maintenance and welfare needs of those animals as well as the fact that many species are not suitable to be kept as pets, online sales of exotic animals from unregulated traders put many animals at risk of injury or death.
I will finish on some good advice from the Dogs Trust that will be particularly useful for anyone who has asked for a dog next week in their Christmas list. There are a number of dos. Always see the puppy interacting with its mother and siblings, and visit more than once: visits are your opportunity to ask everything about life with your new puppy—take it. Before the puppy comes home, know what paperwork it should have and insist that it is available when you collect the puppy—never agree to paperwork being posted later. Walk away if you are suspicious of the seller or breeder and report them immediately to trading standards; once you have taken the puppy, it is too late. If the pup was advertised online and you have concerns, report the seller directly to the website where you viewed the advert. Take your puppy to your own vet for a health check as soon as possible.
Finally, there are a few don’ts: don’t meet anywhere that is not the puppy’s home; don’t buy from anyone who can supply various breeds on demand; don’t buy puppies that look too small or underweight for their stated age; don’t feel pressurised into buying the puppy immediately—walk away if you have any concerns; and don’t buy a puppy that you suspect has been imported into the country illegally.
I thank Emma Harper again. It is an excellent initiative that is being taken forward and I strongly support the work that she is carrying out.17:06
I congratulate my colleague Emma Harper on bringing the issue to the attention of Parliament once again. Her motion neatly captures the key issues that we face and correctly draws our and, I hope, the public’s attention to the many rescue centres and shelters in Scotland that have thousands of dogs and pups all needing loving families and homes.
Those centres assess and support rehoming of dogs of all breeds and ages. People can be assured that adopting a dog or a pup from a rescue centre will mean that their dog is healthy and can look forward to a fantastic new life with its new family.
From the very helpful background information that has been provided to us by the Scottish Parliament information centre, it is clear that we should distinguish between the approach of legitimate and responsible dog breeders, who do a great job of producing healthy dogs for loving dog owners, and the irresponsible approach that is taken by people whose only motive is to make a profit at the expense of the welfare of the animals and of the public who come into contact with them. There is no established definition of “puppy farming”, and although some of the practices that are employed are not illegal, some of them have been described as “barbaric” because they use beautiful wee animals as production line commodities in battery farm settings to be sold on at high prices for a quick buck.
Some estimates put the value of the puppy trade at about £13 million a year. The Scottish Government’s snapshot survey of online puppy sales, which was taken over just a 12-week period, showed that there are a variety of individuals selling online—some of them perfectly legitimately, of course. The survey gives us an indication of the value of the trade, but it is probably significantly underestimated because the more unscrupulous operators do not wish to appear on the radar too often.
I know of examples in East Ayrshire where, mainly by word of mouth, it is made known that special breeds of pup are available for sale. A location is notified—usually a car park—and, lo and behold, the boot of the dealer’s car opens up and there is a beautiful wee pup, waiting for a new owner and a new home. Cash is handed over—it is often a significant sum—and the deal is done. What the new owner does not know, of course, is anything about the health and welfare of the pup, its family history or pedigree, and even whether it has spent any time with its mother after it was born. No papers are handed over to verify anything. Often those wee dogs develop serious health problems; in some cases, they do not survive their first six months. It is a scandalous situation.
Local authorities are becoming more vigilant, but enforcement tends to come about as a response to a situation rather than as a proactive process, or through any kind of spot-checking system for monitoring compliance. Perhaps there is something to think about in that respect.
How can we improve things overall? We have in place licensing schemes, and reputable breeders respect the system in which they operate, but how do we tackle the rest? OneKind’s paper “Scotland’s Puppy Profiteers” makes a number of suggestions, including limiting the numbers and ages of puppies that can be brought in by any one person to the United Kingdom under the pet travel scheme, and requiring that handover of puppies take place at licensed premises rather than from the boot of a car. Both are helpful suggestions. The Scottish Government’s scoping paper on the issue talks about mandatory microchipping for identification and traceability, and about reliable online resources to provide advice to the public.
Probably most important of all is that we continue to alert and educate the public about the risks of buying puppies without knowledge of their history. As we all know, it is usually too late for someone to change their mind when they are faced with a wee pup staring up at them from the boot of car. I therefore ask the public please to think carefully before doing anything like that, and to consider adoption from one of our many rescue centres, where the dogs and pups are just as lovely.
I again congratulate Emma Harper on allowing us to highlight this really important issue.17:10
I, too, thank Emma Harper for bringing the debate to Parliament, and I thank everyone who has been in touch to share their views on the adopt don’t shop campaign and their experiences of life with a rescue dog. It is vital, during December’s frenzied shopping period, that we reinforce the message about ethical treatment of animals. However, given the lengths to which scammers and puppy farmers go to present a caring image, it is also important not to focus blame on individual choices or to imply that the motives of anyone who ever browsed online for their ideal pet are necessarily any different from those of people who already adopt.
The underlying message of the adopt don’t shop campaign is, of course, that we should not overlook those who are in need or drive unsustainable demand for something new—especially at this time of year. However, the debate on this occasion comes while the focus is on the wider industry that supplies that demand. The most recent meeting of the cross-party group on animal welfare heard from the Dogs Trust about the scale of criminality and abuse in the puppy smuggling trade and that, on any given day, about 500 dogs are for sale in Scotland on online classified advert websites. Demand for designer puppies has led to breeders and dealers illegally importing puppies with no regard for their welfare, and there have been many examples of truly horrendous neglect. Buyers often have no idea that their puppy has been illegally imported until it is too late.
Last week, OneKind published a report entitled “Scotland’s Puppy Profiteers”, which shows that, although trafficking and criminality are hugely important, serious problems also exist with legal breeding establishments in Scotland, and the current legislation does not offer adequate protection.
The briefing that has been sent to MSPs by the Kennel Club details a range of problems that people have faced when, looking for a dog but unsure how to go about it, they have been susceptible to scams and puppy farmers. As we have heard, among the statistics are the experiences of people who purchased a dog without having researched in any great detail—sometimes for less than 20 minutes. At the cross-party group, we heard about people taking more time than that to choose a handbag. Such poorly informed purchases result in the fact that almost 15 per cent of puppies that are bought in that manner experience illness, on-going veterinary treatment or even death in the first six months. That is three times the figure for dogs that are chosen when people take an hour or more—although I respectfully suggest that that, too, is inadequate time.
Given that people’s intention to share their life with an animal is so open to exploitation by disreputable salespeople who are keen to lure in customers with a tug at their heart strings, well-publicised guidance on how to find and care for a pet is the key to avoiding bad decisions being made in haste. I, too, thank the Dogs Trust, the Kennel Club, OneKind, the Scottish SPCA and others for the work that they are doing to make a difference in the area.
We have to be clear that we are talking about a multimillion pound industry that frequently operates below the radar, thereby avoiding taxation and regulation. Many people know that they are dealing with a less-than-regulated trade, but sometimes when they see the puppy they feel that they are rescuing it from a bad situation. We need to stop the demand by encouraging people to go directly to rescue centres.
I am pleased that the representatives of each party in Holyrood support the message that people who are looking to buy a dog should consider a rescue dog first. The irony is that we constantly hear from rescue shelters that they struggle to meet the needs of yesterday’s sold puppies and kittens once they have been abandoned, especially after Christmas, and that those often include designer breeds. I believe that all the parties in Parliament share common concerns about large-scale puppy breeders operating in Scotland, trafficking of dogs and the largely uncontrolled third-party online traders. We also share a willingness to work together to address the concerns.
We all want the debate to be much more than a public service announcement, so we need the Scottish Government to introduce clear guidance for people who are searching for a dog, on where they can look and whom to consult, so that they can make an informed choice. We also urgently need to bring legislation up to date to stop the scams and the puppy farmers. If we adopt don’t shop, we will not go wrong. It is the right thing to do.17:15
I congratulate Emma Harper on securing the debate. I declare an interest as a member of the Scottish SPCA and a patron of the Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home, which in 2017 rescued 600 dogs and cats.
The scandal of puppy farming—I call it puppy factories—has been an issue for a long time. Indeed, I tried to do something about it myself in session 1 of this Parliament, with limited success. I applaud Emma Harper for pressing on with the campaign to prevent the trade and to catch unscrupulous dealers. As other members have said, nowadays there is a growing problem with internet sales of pets, including puppies and so-called designer dogs, some of which come from as far as eastern Europe.
All of that flies in the face of animal welfare. We have tried educating the public through advertising campaigns, and it has not been as successful as we would like. That led me to consider whether there is another way of approaching the issue, rather than just looking at the dealers and those who run the factories, by placing a statutory duty on people who are buying or acquiring a puppy before they can even make the deal. That is why I am working on, and have almost completed, the draft consultation for a member’s bill, whose working title—although it will probably not be the title in the end—is the puppy contract.
There are two parts to the bill. One part will be for the dealers and the breeders, some of whom will be amateurs, and for third parties, but the other side will be for the person purchasing or acquiring the puppy. I use the term “acquiring” to get round any mistakes in cases where money does not change hands. Part of what I am trying to do in the bill has already been mentioned by members. I am trying to make a potential acquirer go through a checklist of whether or not they are the right person, at the right time and in the right situation, to take on any puppy, let alone a specific breed. Members have already mentioned people’s suitability in terms of their work and the free time available to them, their family composition, their age and the accommodation that they have. It will also require them to make inquiry of the person selling or transferring the puppy to them and, so far as practicable, to see the puppy with its mother and siblings. All those things have been mentioned by other members, but not in the context of their being a statutory requirement.
I do not know whether my proposed member’s bill will be successful, but I thought that it was worth a try, rather than constantly trying to educate the public with various advertising campaigns and debates. The duties on breeders would also be extended to require them to really check out the person trying to acquire a puppy from them. We need to cut off the demand. If we can cut off the demand in Scotland, through Scots law, it follows that we will reduce supply from one source or another.
It is early days but, like Emma Harper, I am determined to do as much as possible to reduce animal suffering and to identify the criminals who make big bucks from that ruthless trade—there is a role for Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs here. We should also give a thought to Brexit and to the impact of European Union withdrawal on animal welfare rules and regulations.
I will conclude by saying that I do not have the lifestyle for a dog, much as I would love to have a Dandie Dinmont—people should look that up if they do not know what it is—but I do have a rescue animal. It is a rescue cat. We get on fine and his name is Mr Smokey. One day, I may be in a position to have a rescue dog.17:19
I begin by congratulating Emma Harper on securing today’s debate. Well done to her for doing so. It was good to see that the two puppies that visited us last year in the Parliament are now doing so well and are happily in their forever homes. That sort of good story is a credit to the Scottish SPCA and is only one example of the great work that it does, so I am glad that Emma Harper’s motion highlights it as an example of the type of organisation that people should be using to get a dog.
Dogs are man’s best friends; Bobby, my family’s west Highland terrier, is certainly that to me. That is a corny and overused phrase, but it is true. They fulfil a number of vital functions in our society: they can be a child’s loyal first best friend, a companion for the elderly, a carer for those who are blind or deaf, or even a work colleague, whether in the police service or armed forces. I have recently read that trained dogs are being used with armed forces veterans in America who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which we should look at for this country.
The American author and animal activist Roger A Caras summed up our relationship with dogs. He wrote:
“Dogs have given us their absolute all. We are the center of their universe. We are the focus of their love and faith and trust. They serve us in return for scraps. It is without a doubt the best deal man has ever made.”
It is only right that we look after our best friends properly. As the motion notes,
“there are currently thousands of dogs situated in rescue centres across Scotland”
and those should be the priority for people who are looking to give a dog a home.
I welcome the inclusion of online trade in the motion. I had a quick search online and was able to find numerous websites to buy dogs, whether through official-looking websites or on websites such as Gumtree. Most sites did not have the information on the dog’s past care and status that one would hope to be able to find out.
I urge anybody who is looking to get a dog not to use such sites, but to use one of the proper rescue centres. One of the nine Scottish SPCA rescue centres in Scotland is based in Dumbarton in my West Scotland region. I know of several examples in recent years of the successful rehomings of dogs that have brought a lot of love and joy to families.17:21
I thank Emma Harper for her motion that has allowed the debate to take place. With thousands of dogs across Scotland needing to be rehomed, today’s debate is a great chance to talk about the benefits of adopting dogs and the importance of putting a stop to unethical dog breeding.
The recent Dogs Trust report on puppy smuggling revealed the sheer scale of illegal puppy trading, particularly from central and eastern Europe. The investigation found that puppies were being bred in poor conditions and imported to the UK in
“long journeys in cramped, filthy conditions with little or no food or water”.
It found evidence that those involved in the business are finding new ways to avoid detection, including falsifying data on pet passports, importing puppies at an older age and transporting them in smaller numbers. The investigation even found one vet who was willing to sell sedatives to smugglers, as sedated dogs are considered to be easier to smuggle into the country.
As the motion notes, some of that trafficking is taking place at Cairnryan port in my home region of Dumfries and Galloway. Following the deeply disturbing findings of the BBC Scotland documentary “The Dog Factory”, which revealed that animals were being illegally transported through that port, a pilot was set up to tackle the problem. As a councillor, I had the privilege of chairing the council’s environment committee when that multiagency operation was established, which involved the council, Police Scotland, HMRC, Stena Line, and the Scottish, Royal, Ulster, Irish and Dublin SPCAs. It was a clear example of the benefits of a collaborative approach. Since the scheme began, it has successfully recovered and rehomed more than 170 puppies and I am delighted that, in September, the scheme was extended for another year.
Although valuable and innovative work such as that is taking place at a local level, there remains a need to address the more fundamental inadequacies of the existing legislation. As well as the need to introduce a fit-person check, there has been a more general call for the development of new, up-to-date offences that take into account large-scale puppy farming, online trading and designer breeding.
The operations at Cairnyran have highlighted the benefits of intelligence sharing and we should look at how to expand that practice. Trading standards Scotland is currently running an operation to gather intelligence on puppy sellers, which raises the possibility of using consumer protection legislation to take action against puppy sellers in cases where they can be identified.
Additionally, we must do more to put a stop to back-street breeding here in the UK. Research by Battersea Dogs & Cats Home found that only 12 per cent of the puppies that are born in Great Britain are born to licensed breeders. Its report, “Licensed Dog Breeding in Great Britain” highlights the need for regulation that encourages dog breeding businesses into the licensed market, while providing sufficient safeguards for dogs and consumers. The Welsh Government has introduced stricter welfare criteria for dog breeding and I hope that the Scottish Government will follow suit.
Beyond tackling the specific issues of puppy smuggling and back-street breeding, we must do more to protect dogs against cruelty and mistreatment. The recent decision to lift the ban on tail docking was a deeply regrettable move, and I hope that it will be reversed at some point in the future. However, I was pleased that, in its programme for government, the Scottish Government committed to raising the maximum sentence for animal cruelty to five years. That is welcome. Now that the UK Government has published draft legislation to address the issue in other parts of the UK, I hope that when she sums up the debate, the cabinet secretary will be able to say when the Scottish Government plans to introduce legislation to bring about such change in Scotland, in line with the campaign of the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home for tougher sentences. Our current maximum sentence of 12 months is one of the most lenient in Europe, and it completely fails to reflect the seriousness of such crimes.
I also urge the Scottish Government to take bolder action on electric shock collars. Shock collars are fundamentally cruel and unnecessary. Regulating their use will not put a stop to their role in the mistreatment of dogs, and the creation of a qualification for using them risks making their use aspirational. The case for a full ban is clear, and it has the support of a wide range of animal welfare organisations and dog training and behavioural experts. In addition, we must do more to ensure that dogs are bred, sold and looked after in a more ethical way.
Shelters and rescue centres across Scotland are doing fantastic work to find dogs suitable homes, and I join other members in encouraging people to adopt a dog rather than buy one.
Two more members wish to speak in the debate before the cabinet secretary responds. Therefore, I am minded to accept a motion without notice, under rule 8.14.3, to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes to allow that to happen.
That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Emma Harper]
Motion agreed to.17:26
I thank Emma Harper, not only for bringing the debate to Parliament but for her tireless work on raising awareness of puppy trafficking, illegal puppy farming and dog welfare.
In the debate that Emma Harper led on the issue last year, I talked about my friend’s wonderful dog Dieta, a giant Schnauzer. She was a maltreated breeding bitch who was a casualty of the insatiable demand for pedigree puppies. She was rescued by my pal and was lucky to live out the rest of her life surrounded by love.
This year, however, my speech does not have such a happy ending because, last month, the biggest illegal puppy farm in the country was discovered in Fyvie in my constituency. Yet again, the love that we as a nation have for our dogs has been manipulated for commercial gain at the expense of the health and welfare of those dogs.
In June this year, I wrote to Aberdeenshire Council as a result of concern that had been raised in the local press about the fact that Michelle Wood of Fyvie had applied for planning permission for kennels. Ms Wood was linked to the James family, three members of which had previously been banned from running a pet shop and owning more than two dogs after animals in their care were seized in horrific conditions. The press suspected that Ms Wood was a front for the James family, who had already applied for licences unsuccessfully several times via other family members.
Thankfully, the Formartine area committee joined the dots and refused the licence and planning permission. However, last month, the Scottish SPCA and Police Scotland raided premises in the Fyvie area and seized 105 animals. They included more than 90 bitches and their pups, who had been bred illegally and were being kept in horrifying conditions. Investigations are on-going, so I cannot say any more except this: many of the animals that were seized were in such poor condition that they have had to be put to sleep.
Extensively and aggressively bred bitches do not produce healthy babies. People who buy a puppy from someone they do not know or for whom they have no trusted recommendation not only run the risk of having a very sick animal on their hands—one that, heartbreakingly, a vet might recommend be put down—but unwittingly perpetuate the illegal trade. The people who illegally breed such dogs know our vulnerabilities. They know that it is very difficult for a customer to walk away from a puppy, even if they have doubts about how it is being cared for.
Illegal puppy farms such as the one in my constituency prey on our love of dogs, but people who truly love dogs will home a dog responsibly. I ask people to adopt an older dog if they can, and if they must get a puppy, I ask them not to buy one on impulse but to do their homework. That way, we can end this disgraceful and cruel trade.17:29
I join other members in thanking Emma Harper for securing this debate, and I declare an interest as an honorary member of the British Veterinary Association. I also declare an interest as the owner of a retired greyhound called Bert, who was the winner of the Holyrood dog of the year public vote this year. Bert greatly enjoyed his day inside the Parliament. He ran up and down corridors and even broke into Willie Rennie’s office at one point, although he did not leave him any messages—not about ferries, anyway. He had a great time.
I pay tribute to the Scottish Greyhound Sanctuary, which is the organisation that rehomed Bert with us. It takes dogs that have often come from quite disgraceful conditions in the racing industry and fosters them, bringing them into a real home in which the dogs can get used to being in a loving environment with a real family. It works with potential owners, home-checking the potential owners’ homes to ensure that they are suitable for the dogs, and working with the dogs right the way through the adoption process as they adapt to their new families and their forever homes.
There are some misconceptions about greyhounds. People think that they need to be walked a lot, but they do not; two short walks a day will usually suffice, as they do not need a huge amount of exercise. Further, they are not highly strung and are, in fact, very chilled out and relaxed dogs. They are great family pets.
There is a serious point here. We need to think about regulating the industry further, because hundreds of greyhounds are killed each year, often simply because they have gone lame and can no longer race. Greyhounds are often shot in the head with a bolt gun. Some greyhounds are sold to China, where they race at a track called the Canidrome, and where, unless they place first, second or third in their first five races, they are destroyed. There is a serious issue to be addressed about a betting industry that is making a lot of money from the exploitation of animals, and I believe that we need to think again about regulating the greyhound industry. Certainly, at the very least, there should be compulsory rehoming. That would be a significant reform.
I back Emma Harper’s call for us to adopt not shop, and I suggest that, where appropriate, we should also think about adopting greyhounds.17:32
As many other members have done, I congratulate Emma Harper on securing this debate, which comes shortly after the publication of the research that was commissioned by the Scottish Government from Northumbria University and the University of South Wales to help understanding of the policy challenges relating to the illegal trade in and irresponsible breeding of puppies. It is important that we do that kind of research to ensure that, as we move forward on policy issues, the underpinnings are strong.
I thank everyone who has spoken in the debate. Many of them echoed each other’s sentiments and comments, as one would imagine in a debate such as this. I am not going to try to recall the names of all the dogs and puppies that were referenced in the debate—I see that those members with dogs care very much about them. Sadly, I am one of those people who, because of their work-life balance, have made a choice not to have a dog or a puppy, as having one in their current circumstances would not be appropriate. I wish that other people would understand that there are times in one’s life when one should not have a dog of any kind. If someone cannot look after a dog, it is not fair on the dog to take one on.
I recognise Emma Harper’s longstanding and steadfast concern about this issue. In her opening speech, she flagged up the research and, like many other members, reinforced the reasonable point that adopting a rescue dog is by far the best way to acquire a dog in the first place.
Rona Mackay and David Stewart referred to cross-border trade issues not so much in terms of the illegal puppy trafficking that the motion is concerned with but in terms of people’s desire to adopt dogs that they think are being abused in other countries. Of course, that overlooks the fact that there are huge numbers of dogs here that need to be rehomed. Further, sadly, that misplaced sense of care simply encourages illegal pet trafficking. People might be acting with the best intentions, but in this case, unfortunately, those good intentions result in the opposite of what they want to happen.
The illegal puppy trade is indeed a blight across the whole of Scotland. I listened to Gillian Martin’s description of what has happened in her local area. The fact remains that Cairnryan is a main entry port for many unfortunate puppies. My officials regularly attend meetings there and they keep me informed of what is happening locally.
Co-operation on intelligence sharing between the enforcement authorities and welfare organisations across the UK through campaigns such as operation Delphin is greatly encouraging. I am also pleased to see that HM Revenue and Customs is now taking a close interest in recovering large sums in unpaid taxes from the criminals involved in this lucrative cash-based trade. Sometimes ways of tackling the problem are not immediately obvious, so that is a welcome step.
The puppy trade is driven by buyer demand. A great deal of information is already available to those who wish to buy a puppy responsibly, so we would like to ensure that everyone who is thinking of buying a puppy—or any pet—has no difficulty in finding advice if they look for it. Our “Code of Practice for the Welfare of Dogs” advises potential purchasers on all the aspects to consider when obtaining a puppy, how to purchase it from a reputable source and, as I mentioned at the outset, whether one should actually take on a dog at all.
I do not want to corner the cabinet secretary, but is she sympathetic to my proposal that we should embed in statute duties on the person who is acquiring a dog, rather than just having guidance—worthy though it is?
I want to look carefully at all proposals, but we all recognise that the member is at it, because we have already had a meeting on this very subject. I congratulate the member on chancing her arm as she is often wont to do in circumstances such as these. All practicable and manageable proposals will be looked at carefully
Sadly, codes of practice can only go so far. The research that we funded confirmed that many buyers act on impulse without seeking information beforehand and will still agree to take delivery of an animal in exchange for cash, in the most unlikely of places, perhaps wrongly believing that there is such a thing as a cut-price pup. We need to eradicate that belief from people’s thinking, as what they do, unwittingly at best, is to provide a market that can be exploited by puppy traffickers.
There is also a tendency for well-meaning buyers to want to “rescue” puppies that might be sick or are from dubious sellers, but that just continues to fuel the trade. If someone wants to rescue a pup, there are plenty of reputable establishments that should be the first port of call for anyone who wants to take on a rescue dog.
In keeping with the commitment in the programme for government, work on a public awareness campaign in conjunction with the Scottish SPCA and other leading welfare organisations is already under way. Sadly, events in the past year have shown that not all those who look after rescued animals do so with the animals’ best interests at heart. That is why we committed to consult on a modern system of licensing and registration of animal sanctuaries and rehoming activities. That will ensure that effective controls are in place to further protect the welfare of rescued animals. The consultation paper launched on 11 December, so I call on all those who have an interest in the subject to make their views known.
We should not be under any illusions: the demand for particular breeds and the movement of dogs between Northern Ireland and Scotland will not be easy to disrupt. There are no animal health restrictions on the free movement of pet animals between these two parts of the UK, just as there are no restrictions on the movement of dogs to Scotland from England or Wales, although poor welfare conditions can be dealt with.
That sounds gloomier than I hope the position actually is or will become. We will continue to work closely with the pet animal advertising group and support its efforts, which seem to have some effect. The key message remains that the illegal trade in puppies from Ireland and elsewhere could be seriously disrupted if every puppy buyer first considered rehoming an animal from a centre in Scotland, or, if they must buy a puppy, insisted that they see it first with its mother at the breeder’s premises.
I hope that in time the message “Adopt, don’t shop” will become as well known as the advice that “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas.”Meeting closed at 17:40.