On 21st December 2016, the BBC aired episode 8 of consumer programme Watchdog. A report contained in the programme centred on the activities of LICENSED dog breeder and pet shop, Kevin Knox owner of Ivy Leaf Kennels.
Following DEFRA’s announcement of a new licensing regime, which will supposedly improve the lives of the nation’s breeding dogs and their puppies, we thought now would be an opportune time to give you an insight into what it means to be a LICENSED dog breeder and pet shop in the UK, and how the system is often set up to fail the dogs.
Below is a blog from Julia Carr, dog welfare campaigner, lobbyist and founder of Canine Action UK.
‘Kevin Knox isn’t entirely to blame for selling sick puppies.’
BBC Consumer Affairs programme, Watchdog, highlighted that despite the focus on illegal puppy sellers, problems are just as likely when the seller is licenced and legal.
Ivy Leaf Kennels owned by Kevin Knox has been the subject of negative media attention for many years and was exposed by BBC Inside Out in 2010 for selling sick puppies. Despite this, he continues to be licensed both as a breeder and as a pet shop, which allows him to buy in puppies from elsewhere and sell them on.
Watchdog repeatedly stated that since Inside Out was aired, they have learned of 52 cases of puppies becoming seriously ill and 11 puppies that died soon after purchase. One case was reported in June 2014. Quite rightly the programme pointed out that Kevin Knox’s response “Our client accepts that sometimes puppies die” is completely unacceptable.
The programme sent an undercover team to act as purchasers and they filmed the sale as Mr Knox handed over a puppy with as much feeling as if he was selling a toaster. Apart from conjunctivitis, the puppy was in reasonable physical condition although it was not comfortable around humans and required remedial behavioural support to ensure that this wouldn’t develop into a problem. The programme also observed that the kennels appeared ‘clean and professional’ although very sterile with no form of environmental enrichment.
The programme attempted to discover why so many puppies had become sick or had died and focussed on potential issues with the environment, including an unsanitary outside yard and lack of handwashing facilities. Suggestions for improvements were made to Mr Knox in a letter, but what the programme didn’t highlight was that these issues should have been picked up in the inspection process.
With such obvious risks for disease transmission, why have the premises been relicensed? The programme stated at the beginning of the piece that “if they’re licensed, you should feel secure in the knowledge that your puppy has been well reared and is healthy and happy.” Clearly Ivy Leaf kennels are not operating as they should and it is fantastic that this has been exposed in such a high profile way. However, it is just as important that searching questions are asked about the licensing process that has not been able to prevent these very serious problems.
The truth is, while Kevin Knox is a convenient person to blame for the sick and dying puppies he has sold, the buck doesn’t stop with him. There are supposed to be processes in place to protect not just the welfare of dogs and puppies but to protect consumers.
Ivy Leaf Kennels are licensed as a dog breeding establishment and as a pet shop – that should mean inspections are carried out to ensure that the premises meet the required criteria for both activities. Kevin Knox’s legal representative issued a reply to Watchdog which was shown on screen. It claims “Each year his premises are inspected by the local authority and each year his premises are deemed to be of sufficient standard to have an animal breeders licence and a pet shop licence issued to him by them.” However this is not entirely true.
Durham’s response to our own Freedom of Information request (dated January 2016) states “the Council does not hold the requested information (inspection reports) for 2013 and 2015. This is because the premises were not due for inspection in 2013 and inspections had not been carried out for 2015 at the time your request was made.” The only inspection received for Ivy Leaf Kennels was dated 2nd December 2014, so it appears that if no inspection was made during 2013 then about two years had elapsed since it was last inspected.
However, it is likely that even if Durham Council had been more diligent with their inspection protocol, puppies would still be dying or developing serious illnesses after being sold because Kevin Knox operates within a system that allows him to buy in puppies from other breeders based many hundreds of miles away, transport them to his own establishment and sell them on. These puppies are likely to be sourced from multiple different breeders who breed dogs as a cash crop, with no consideration for their physical or mental welfare. These breeding establishments are probably never seen by the public as their sole market is likely to be third party traders such as Kevin Knox and the other eighty licensed pet shops that are permitted to sell puppies.
The whole system facilitates the trading of dogs as a commodity and allows them to be bred, reared and sold with no regard for their wellbeing or suitability to become well-adjusted family pets.
The bald reality is that it doesn’t really matter how clean Ivy Leaf kennels are, or whether customers are able to wash their hands. If the council was prepared to inspect the establishment every month, puppies would still be dying. No matter what measures are imposed at the point of sale, those puppies would still be bred by irresponsible breeders because no responsible breeder would allow a third party to sell their puppies. They would still have to endure a lengthy journey in unmonitored conditions, crammed in with other stressed and poorly bred puppies from multiple sources. They would still be kept in a situation where the only objective is to sell them as quickly as possible to make room for more puppies.
Kevin Knox is just a representative of the entire problem, one that cannot be improved while it remains legal to sell puppies through commercial third party outlets.
Eleven puppies are known to have died during the last six years; this is probably just the tip of the iceberg and even the puppies which have apparently been in good health after sale are likely to have behavioural problems or go on to develop chronic conditions as they age due to bad breeding practices. Puppies that die before they are sold are not ever accounted for. We MUST not accept that “puppies die”. We must not allow them to die.
There is only one way of making a difference and that is to completely ban the commercial sale of puppies through third parties. Don’t blame Kevin Knox for doing what he is legally permitted to. Make sure that he is NOT legally permitted to do it any longer by supporting a ban on the third party sale of puppies.
Since the Watchdog programme was aired, the RSPCA have launched an investigation. Our question is ‘Why wasn’t this investigation launched sooner?