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Joining things up on pet welfare

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TO be effective, rules needs to be complied with and properly enforced. Legislation on pet welfare provides a good example of why this is necessary, as illustrated by a recent position paper from the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE) on problems surrounding trade in dogs1 and by a report this week from the Blue Cross animal welfare charity highlighting gaps in the enforcement of pet animal welfare legislation in Great Britain2. Both documents are relevant to consultations on legislation relating to pets held by Defra earlier this year, and the Government would do well to take note of the issues they raise.

The paper from the FVE, produced jointly with the Union of European Veterinary Practitioners and the Federation of European Companion Animal Veterinary Associations, is significant not just in terms of setting out the position of European vets on trade in dogs but also in showing that concerns about the extent and many aspects of that trade, including abuse of pet travel rules, is not confined to the UK (see p 588 of this issue). Noting that ‘profit should never take priority over animal health and welfare and should never harm the consumer’, it makes the important point that dogs are not just goods to be traded like any other, but sentient animals. Referring to ‘the current alarming state of the dog trade industry’, the three organisations call on everyone involved ‘to work towards a future in which dogs are traded in a respectful and responsible way, taking into account the animals’ health and welfare needs'.

The position paper highlights a number of concerns about the dog trade, many of which arise because in many European countries demand for certain breeds outstrips what local breeders can supply. Matters discussed include the need for puppies to be adequately socialised at an early age, sales over the internet, cross-border movement of ‘rescue’ dogs and the problems caused by irresponsible breeders. It identifies education and raising public awareness as being key to keeping, breeding and trading healthy, well-socialised dogs responsibly, along with harmonised legislation with proper enforcement and control. However, it notes that, at an EU level, there is no harmonisation and no legal framework or guidelines relating to the welfare of dogs in breeding and trading facilities, and that enforcement of transport rules varies widely. It also points out that, currently, the trading of dogs is often wrongly seen as a non-commercial activity.

Concerns about illegal trade were highlighted in a press release from the BVA this week: this noted that, in a recent ‘Voice of the Veterinary Profession’ survey of more than 1000 UK vets, one in three vets who treat pets reported that they had seen puppies they believed had been imported illegally.

The report published by the Blue Cross, called ‘Unpicking the knots’, attempts to unravel the complexities of pet welfare legislation and its enforcement in Great Britain, discussing the roles of government, local authorities and charities (see p 585 of this issue). It draws particular attention to the difficulties faced by local authorities, where ‘cutbacks mean resources are slim in some parts of the country and non-existent in others, while a lack of training and personnel has left many without the necessary skills or confidence to fulfil their jobs to the best of their abilities’. The report includes some startling statistics relating to a reduction in the amount spent on dog warden services in recent years, the extent of unlicensed dog breeding and, in cases where breeding is licensed, differences in the level of inspections by different authorities. It calls for legislation to be updated and for a much more cohesive approach to legislation and enforcement.

Defra's consultations earlier this year related specifically to the licensing of dog breeding and other animal-related business (VR, October 1, 2016, vol 179, p 316) and to how well EU pet travel rules are being applied in the UK (VR, October 8, 2016, vol 179, p 342). It is good to see that Defra is thinking about these things but unfortunate that it is considering them separately when, as the two documents published this month illustrate, the issues are interrelated. In the UK and the rest of Europe, a joined up approach is needed.

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