MP warns over 'disposable pets'
The sale of puppies and kittens in pet shops should be banned or Britain risks becoming a nation with "disposable pets", an MP has said.
Labour's Robert Flello said that, as a nation of animal lovers, the country should not allow the sale of the animals in high street shops because they often come from irresponsible breeders.
So-called puppy farms and other establishments mistreat puppies and kittens and separate them from their mothers at an early age, which leads to life-threatening problems such as poor socialisation, infectious diseases, and impaired immune systems, he said.
Some puppies can also pose a risk to their owners in later life due to their mistreatment, Mr Flello added.
Irresponsible breeders usually sell the animals privately, on the internet or to retail outlets.
But banning the sale of puppies and kittens in pet shops, garden centres and "pet supermarkets" is the easiest way to have an immediate impact on the problem, according to Mr Flello.
Asking for clarity from the Government, he said he believed local councils may already have the power to restrict pet shop licences to stop them selling certain types of animals, and if so they should stop the sale of puppies and kittens.
Opening a debate on a backbench business motion in the Commons, Mr Flello said: "We consider ourselves to be a nation of animal lovers where a dog is a man's best friend, a pet cat, a pet dog is part of the family.
"But every day puppies and kittens are bought from pet shops or garden centres that become ill. All too frequently they die as a result of the supply chain from irresponsible breeder to pet shop.
"Quite frankly I can't think a nation of animal lovers would allow this to continue.
"Are we at risk of becoming a nation with disposable pets?"
Mr Flello said the sale of puppies and kittens on the high street can lead to impulse-buying, leaving owners with the burden of unhealthy animals that may have behavioural problems, which can lead to pets being abandoned.
He said: "Puppies and kittens are housed and sold without their mothers and the presence of such retail outlets encourages impulsive buying, irresponsible breeding, and commoditisation of these animals, as well as too often leaving prospective owners with the burden of life-threatening health and behavioural problems associated with pet shop puppies.
"The Government can therefore have an immediate effect without any excessive enforcement costs by banning the sale of puppies and kittens on high street premises."
Mr Flello acknowledged that improving public information to encourage people to only buy puppies and kittens when their mother is present is important, but the banning of their sale on the high street is needed to combat impulse-buying.
He said: "Information is absolutely important but, with all the best information in the world, if you happen to be buying a container of goldfish food from the local pet shop with your family and they see a cute puppy or a cute kitten that's where a problem arises - the impulse purchase."
The MP added: "My intention from this motion is not to vilify pet shops per se but in almost every case where they sell puppies and kittens they simply can't meet the specific needs required in this developmental golden period for puppies to learn their future emotional template, in order to exhibit normal behaviour patterns, to safely adjust to family life, as well as all the health implications."
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee chair Anne McIntosh said self-regulation and better public information was the way forward.
She said: "I'm slightly confused as to why a great deal of emphasis in your speech was on pet shops because my understanding is that pet shops are the one part of the trade that is pretty much regulated."
She went on: "The message that I think should go forward from the House today is that there is a role for self-regulation.
"Surely to any responsible potential dog or cat owner we should not be buying puppies or kittens where the mother is not present.
"That is so self evident. Do we need to legislate that? Is that something we just need to go out and educate the public on?"
Tory MP Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) outlined his own support for the motion as a dog lover.
But first he lightened the mood: "Dogs have a unique bond with us humans - our two dogs, Boris and Maggie, have a loyalty, a love, a calming nature through exercise and, of course, the comfort a dog can give you.
"When your animals need medical attention, you worry about them like you would any other member of the family.
"For the first and last time, I can stand in this House and say that Boris's bad behaviour was improved immensely when I had him castrated.
"He did have a castration operation when he was younger and that night he got constant attention, because they are like a member of your family ... the public when we go out and buy an animal, we need to expect those animals are getting a healthy start in life, that they are well looked after."
Conservative Simon Kirby (Brighton Kemptown) urged the House to "speak up for the puppies and kittens who have no voice" and stop the "cruel and unnecessary" practice.
He went on: "Let us all ask 'Where's mum?'"
Liberal Democrat Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) said the status quo was unacceptable, adding that the same treatment would not be tolerated in respect of farm animals.
Labour's John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) said in terms of breeding licensing the regime had to be reduced to two litters a year and insisted a puppy should not be removed from his or her mother for 12 weeks.
He said enforcement was key and that local authorities needed to have the resources to be able to deal with the issue.
Conservative Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) said there should mandatory licensing for all breeders, not just those with a larger number of animals, and called for pet shops to be banned from selling puppies.
He told the House that 95% of people would not wish to buy from puppy farmers but more than 900,000 a year inadvertently do so.
Green MP Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion) called puppy farms "factories" for dogs and said adult dogs were used as "breeding machines".
She agreed with Conservative Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) that the existing legislation needed to be better enforced.
But she added that the case for action was "overwhelming", and said: "The fact we can't do everything doesn't mean we shouldn't do anything."
Animal Health Minister George Eustice told MPs that since a new voluntary code on pet sales was introduced by the Government earlier this year, about 100,000 adverts for pets have been removed from the internet.
He said local authorities would all be contacted to offer new clarity and guidance on the law about enforcing rules on pet sales in light of the debate.
On pet shops, he added: "Only around 2% of pet shops sell cats and dogs - it's about 70 pet shops in total. They are already regulated and licensed, regulated by the 1951 Pet Animals Act.
"(Local authorities) do have the power to restrict the number of animals that can be sold.
"The intention of the provision is for local authorities on a case-by-case basis to judge whether a particular premise is suitable for a particular animal to be sold."
Mr Freeman said he believed the debate had been "important" and he had received many hundreds of letters about the sale of puppies and kittens.
"It's something that is clearly of great importance to the country," he said.
"We have got eight million dogs in this country and we are a nation of animal lovers."