On 30th January, 2017 a long-standing C.A.R.I.A.D. supporter wrote to the Head of Animal Welfare Policy at the Welsh Government expressing their overwhelming disappointment in the failure of the Welsh dog breeding regulations to effect any meaningful change in the welfare of dogs kept in licensed breeding premises in Wales.
This letter followed on from a C.A.R.I.A.D. article entitled ‘Dogs are suffering in Welsh ‘puppy farms’ despite new regulations, say campaigners.’ published on Wales Online in December 2016.
Below is the letter submitted by our long-standing supporter to the Welsh Government. This letter is being published as part of our PuppiLeaks campaign.
To: Head of Animal Welfare Policy, Welsh Government
Dear Head of Animal Welfare Policy
I am writing to you in your capacity as Head of Animal Welfare Policy, and as the senior official who was directly involved in the final stages of the development of the Breeding of Dogs (Wales) Regulations, 2014.
1) I am writing in particular to express my overwhelming disappointment in the failure of these Regulations to effect any meaningful change in the welfare of dogs kept in licensed breeding premises in Wales. It has become evident, through evidence of authority licensing reports obtained through FOI, and other evidence that the key provisions of the Regulations are simply not being applied.
2) License reports for both Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire, for example, for both 2015 and 2016, again and again refer to the premises examined having significantly lower than the required minimum number of staff in relation to the numbers of breeding dogs licensed for. Yet in every case the premises has continued to be licensed.
3) Two key elements of the legislation which would have been critical to effect significant improvement in welfare, were the requirement that each premises submit for approval a ‘socialisation’ programme (for the puppies bred), and an ‘enhancement and enrichment’ programme to ensure adequate exercise, stimulation and interaction. Yet in hardly any of the licence reports is there any reference to the socialisation or enrichment activities of the premises, and pretty much none at all to the required socialisation and enrichment programmes. Again, despite this, the premises are being licensed.
4) What is undoubtedly continuing to happen is that many premises, likely most, in the primary breeding authorities Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion, are keeping dogs as before in barren accommodation without adequate, exercise, stimulation or interaction, and with entirely inadequate staffing levels to enable proper care. They will, one can anticipate, continue to be failing to be provided with adequate veterinary care and other basic facilities in many cases.
5) How has this come about? The Welsh Government needs to accept a very substantial amount of blame. The Regulations took about five years to come into place after the Task and Finish Group report was initially produced. Throughout this period there were multiple consultations with extraordinary delays between each and no sense of urgency whatsoever from the Government. Such delays when queried were often met with a weak response that, ‘it’s with our lawyers’. These lawyers appear to have been remarkably tardy not to mention incompetent as the drafting was at each iteration still flawed.
6) An absolutely key element of the Regulations should have been effective Guidance to local authorities to spell out how the Regulation provisions should be interpreted and applied. The first draft of this was weak, and then sat on a shelf for two years without further consideration. Shortly before the Regulations came into effect a final Guidance document was produced but astonishingly this was significantly diluted even compared to the first. With almost complete lack of concern and lack of understanding of the licensing inspection process, the Government presumed to retain a very poor and lightweight document.
7) This process is particularly galling as earlier Pembrokeshire County Council had put in a great deal of work to provide new model licence conditions under the extant Breeding of Dogs Regulations, 1973. These were comprehensive and of a high standard with thorough guidance to local authorities built in. The conditions rightfully included the expectation that each authority would ensure that the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act6, 2006 were met before a premises was licensed. Pembrokeshire County Council took the initiative to persuade other authorities in Wales to adopt these, working with the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA). But the Welsh Government effectively chose arrogantly to ignore this work and to pursue its own regulations without the competence to do so effectively. We now have the worst of all worlds – poor regulations and inadequate Guidance.
8) While the Welsh Government is blameworthy in this, key culprits also include particular local authorities. Most significantly Carmarthenshire, which is the largest and has 81 licensed breeders, and Ceredigion. The standards applied have been minimal at best, but have often clearly failed to meet the requirements of licensing regulations. Both authorities have stated that they do not apply the Animal Welfare Act when licensing, since ‘this is not a statutory responsibility’. These authorities are continuing to ignore the new Regulations ignoring requirements for minimum staffing, ignoring requirements for puppy socialisation and environmental enrichment. And ignoring the Animal Welfare Act.
9) I understand that when issues have been raised about failures of application and enforcement by local authorities, the Government’s first response has been to avoid the issue stating that it has no authority. The second step has been to provide a link to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales. How helpful. Yet this betrays yet another ignorance – the Ombudsman will not act on general complaints about failures of authorities to meet statutory duties, it will only act on behalf of individual citizens who can provide evidence that they have suffered personal detriment as a result of an authority’s action or inaction. An animal can’t complain about personal detriment nor can someone on their behalf. So no remedy through this route is possible. How come the Welsh Government doesn’t know this? The only available remedy is judicial review – and that requires a likely minimum of £50,000 for legal fees.
10) A further critical issue for Regulations such as these to be properly implemented is adequate training for licensing officials. I understand that there was a 1-day workshop for local authority staff run by the Welsh Government shortly after the Regulations came in, but this is hardly likely to have been adequate. In anticipation of the need for licensing officers to gain an understanding of puppy socialisation and ‘enhancement and enrichment’, C.A.R.I.A.D. produced two Guides. These were published in different formats and made available freely on-line by C.A.R.I.A.D. Copies were supplied to the Welsh Government, though my suspicion is that it could barely be bothered to promote or encourage their use, despite the fact that they are of high quality and based on systematic and up-to-date review of relevant scientific evidence.
11) When the Regulations were passed in 2015 it was stated that there would be a review, particularly relating to the issue of the staff to dog ration. My recollection is that this review was meant to happen within a year. But I don’t think anything has happened yet. A big question is what happens now? What seems likely is that the implementation of the Regulations, such as they are, will continue to be poor or non-existent through continued preparedness of local authorities to licence premises irrespective of whether they meet legally required standards or not. The main consequence of this, of course, will be the continued suffering and poor welfare of thousands of breeding dogs kept in cow-sheds and the like, to make as much money as possible for licensed puppy farmers.
12) But of course the consequences don’t stop there. Failure to properly socialise puppies leads to behavioural problems. These can mean dogs are more readily abandoned or given up. Failure to socialise is associated with increased risk of aggression and dog-biting so this bears on potential risks and costs to health authorities. Numbers of dog bites seen at out-patient clinics across the U.K. are surprisingly high – about 250,000 per annum, and that is without considering those that only go to the local G.P. Inadequate conditions lead to infections and ill-health and owners are often faced with the distress of dealing with a suffering dog, as well as increased veterinary costs. There are so many instances of people having bought puppies via intermediaries from licensed puppy farms, including in Wales, that develop such problems. Seeking redress is not easy.
13) These issues need to be looked at now by the Welsh Government with urgency and without the complacency that has been characteristic of its approach so far. The persistent inability of the Government to understand how licensing works and what the demands on licensing officials are is a key issue and needs to be addressed also.
On 6th February, 2017 our long-standing supporter received the following hugely dismissive response from the Animal Welfare Branch, Welsh Government.
Thank you for your email and letter about the Dog Breeding Regulations.
Welsh Government officials are working with Local Authorities to assess the enforcement of the Regulations and the impact they have had on the welfare of dogs in licensed premises. The first stage of this is a data capture exercise, working direct with the Trading Standards Officers in Wales via the Partnership Delivery Programme, and this is currently underway.
Many of your complaints have previously been raised and discussed with either myself or other members of my team but please be assured that the welfare of dogs and their offspring are a priority for us and we will continue to work with Local Authorities and Third Sector organisations with this aim in mind.
Animal Welfare Branch/Cangen Lles Anifeiliaid
Department for Natural Resources/Yr Adran Cyfoeth Naturiol
Welsh Government/Llywodraeth Cymru
Cathays Park/Parc Cathays
What C.A.R.I.A.D. finds deeply worrying is that the recent announcement from Defra stating their plans to improve the breeding and sale of dogs in England, bear a striking resemblance to the Welsh regulations implemented in April 2015 – regulations that have failed to effect any meaningful change in the welfare of dogs kept in licensed breeding premises in Wales.