Should dogs be bred for sale at pet shops?

John Grima with his cavoodle Coco,11 months old, and nine-week-old puppy at his Kellyville Pets shop.  Photo: Louise Kennerley
John Grima with his cavoodle Coco,11 months old, and nine-week-old puppy at his Kellyville Pets shop. Photo: Louise Kennerley

Watching Coco and Venus, two cavoodle puppies, play with John Grima, it is not hard to understand why these dogs are popular pets.

Mr Grima, the managing director of Kellyville Pets, described the demand for cavoodles - a hybrid of a king Charles cavalier spaniel and poodle - as "so high".

"Cavoodles have become popular for very good reason," he said. "They are easy to train, have a great temperament for families and are small so they suit most modern households."

But his proposal to breed poodle hybrids on a property near Bathurst to supply dogs to his Sydney pet shop has provoked concern among residents as well as animal welfare campaigners opposed to the sale of commercially bred dogs.

An artist's impression of the proposed dog breeding facility near Bathurst. Photo: Rockley Valley Park Pty Ltd

An artist's impression of the proposed dog breeding facility near Bathurst. Photo: Rockley Valley Park Pty Ltd

Alex Vince, a spokesman for Animal Liberation, said Mr Grima's pet shop should only source dogs from rescue or rehoming organisations.

"We believe that proposing the development of a puppy farm at a time when hundreds of thousands of dogs are routinely killed while others await homes in shelters, sanctuaries or pounds reveals that 'responsible breeding' is a myth that ultimately does more harm than good," he said.

Mr Vince highlighted numerous examples of dogs kept in squalid conditions and suffering from neglect on puppy farms, including a recent case in southern Queensland where deceased animals were lying near dogs that were tethered.

John Grima's proposal to develop a dog breeding facility to supply poodle crossbreeds to his Kellyville Pets shop has provoked opposition from residents and animal welfare campaigners. Photo: Louise Kennerley

John Grima's proposal to develop a dog breeding facility to supply poodle crossbreeds to his Kellyville Pets shop has provoked opposition from residents and animal welfare campaigners. Photo: Louise Kennerley

Animal welfare

The RSPCA describes a puppy farm as an "intensive dog breeding facility that is operated under inadequate conditions that fail to meet the dogs behavioural, social and/ or psychological needs".

Mr Grima said his proposal was not a puppy farm and would "significantly improve animal welfare outcomes".

"The dogs we would be breeding are not the same breeds as those found in shelters," he said. "The demand isn't going away, but by raising the standards we can help force rogue operators who have no regard for animal welfare out of the industry."

The development application submitted by Mr Grima's Rockley Valley Park Pty Ltd proposes the building of a 60-dog breeding facility on a 100-hectare property at Fosters Valley, 21 kilometres south of Bathurst.

John Grima said the proposed dog breeding facility was not a puppy farm and will "significantly improve animal welfare outcomes" Photo: Rockley Valley Park Pty Ltd

John Grima said the proposed dog breeding facility was not a puppy farm and will "significantly improve animal welfare outcomes" Photo: Rockley Valley Park Pty Ltd

The $841,000 development consists of grassed exercise yards, insulated kennels with under-slab heating and socialisation yards, grooming facilities and a vet inspection area, a climate-controlled whelping shed with external exercise yards and a training facility to teach dog breeding techniques.

High fences and "non-koala feed trees" are proposed to protect the koala habitat that adjoins part of the property.

Mr Grima said breeding activity would be based on veterinary advice and exceed standards set by law and animal welfare groups.

"The breeding mums will be de-sexed and rehomed between four-and-a-half and five years of age and only be allowed to whelp no more than five times, and only then based on vet approval," he said. "All breeding males will be de-sexed and rehomed by the age of seven years."

Breeding for pets

Bathurst Regional Council received 41 submissions about the proposed dog breeding facility, including four that were lodged late.

"The issues raised in submissions relate to effluent management, noise, the potential impact on koala habitat, animal welfare concerns and the ethics of commercial dog breeding," according to Neil Southorn, the council's director of environmental planning and building services.

Mr Southorn said the council would consider whether the proposed dog breeding facility is permissible under the Local Environmental Plan, any development controls, the suitability of the site, likely environment, social and economic impacts and the public interest.

John Grima said the proposed dog breeding facility was not a puppy farm and will "significantly improve animal welfare outcomes" Photo: Rockley Valley Park Pty Ltd

John Grima said the proposed dog breeding facility was not a puppy farm and will "significantly improve animal welfare outcomes" Photo: Rockley Valley Park Pty Ltd

Mr Vince said the motivation for the dog breeding facility was financial "and we have found that when money is the primary motivation the welfare of the animals becomes a secondary consideration".

"There are ample cases of dog breeders treating dogs in shocking ways, and we don't need to go back far to find evidence of animals kept in squalid conditions and suffering from neglect or untreated problems," he said.

Mr Vince initiated a petition calling on Bathurst Regional Council to reject the development of a "puppy farm", which has received more than 5400 signatures. He said NSW law was "toothless" when it came to puppy farms.

An RSPCA spokeswoman said the organisation supported stronger protections around animal welfare and tougher penalties.

"It is important to note that it is possible to be a responsible breeder of companion animals and to ensure high welfare standards for animals being sold for profit, and individual breeders should be assessed on a case-by-case basis in terms of welfare standards," she said.

Mr Grima said the types of dogs people want - a decision influenced by the size of their yards and lifestyles - are sometimes not found in pounds or shelters.

"Most of the people who come to our store wanting a puppy have already considered a rescue dog but haven't been able to find a suitable dog in a shelter," he said.

Tough laws in Victoria

The proposal for a dog breeding facility follows changes to Victorian laws in December that restrict the number of fertile females that dog breeders can keep and permit pet shops to only sell dogs and cats sourced from shelters, pounds or enrolled foster carers.

Debra Tranter, a spokeswoman for animal welfare group Oscar's Law, which campaigned for the new laws in Victoria, said NSW legislation was "weak and ambiguous".

"The code allows dogs to be bred until they physically can no longer breed, there is no caps on litter numbers and there are no caps on dog numbers that a puppy farmer can keep," she said.

She also criticised the enforcement of the law in NSW: "In NSW puppy factories are self-regulated and that has and still does fail animals."

But Mr Grima said the online trade of puppies would flourish if NSW follows the lead of Victoria.

"Banning approved breeding and the sale of puppies in pet shops will only push the trade further online where many puppy farmers are selling dogs without any accountability for their health, temperament and the conditions they have been bred in," he said. "It would be a tragedy."

A spokeswoman for the NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Niall Blair, said dog breeders had to comply with animal welfare laws and an enforceable code of practice.

She said a NSW parliamentary inquiry had concluded that banning pet shop sales would result in less scrutiny of the pet industry without any reasonable expectation of improved animal welfare outcomes - findings criticised by animal welfare groups.

"Another key finding of the inquiry was that the committee found no evidence that the number of animals kept by breeders is in itself a factor which determines welfare outcomes of breeding animals," she said.

The NSW Pet Registry would improve welfare standards through comprehensive tracing of dogs and cats from the breeder through to owners, she said. "Consideration is being given to lifetime litter restrictions and de-sexing of female breeding dogs when they have reached the end of their breeding lives."

This story Should dogs be bred for sale at pet shops? first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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