Lucy’s law is now in force in England (since April 2020), meaning that breeders in England are subject to legal restrictions designed to protect the welfare of puppies, and to prevent ‘puppy farms’ from operating.
The Welsh Government is currently consulting on similar restrictions for Wales, and it is hoped that Scotland will follow suit.
In the meantime, English law still allows for the importation of puppies from outside of England as a result of international trade agreements to which the UK is still bound. These imported puppies can be sold by those with pet sales licences, which bypasses some key controls associated with English breeders’ licences. The position is set out in detail in the Institute of Licensing’s Journal of Licensing (Edition 27, published July 2020), but the current position is that it is legal for a breeder to import puppies and then sell them under a pet sales licence which requires the holder to make “reasonable efforts to ensure that they will be transported in a suitable manner”. Such importations still have the potential to undermine the licensing controls implemented by Lucy’s Law, creating an enforcement minefield for local authorities tasked with regulating dog breeding. The exploitative importation of young puppies for sale in England still gives rise to the premature separation from the mother, and the trauma and health issues that can be associated with transportation.
Lucy’s law requires that puppies are sold by the breeder, at the premises where they were bred, in the presence of the mother, and prevents them from being sold until they are at least eight weeks old. The licensing regime in place in England for dog breeders protects the welfare of both pup and mother, and prevents the operation of puppy farms, where bitches are bred indiscriminately and with profit prioritised over welfare.
The recent tragic and high profile celebrity case of a puppy dying just 6 days after being delivered from Russia has highlighted the issues and exposed a potentially legal but immoral route to the English market for puppies bred hundreds of miles away and sold away from their mothers. The COVID-19 lockdown has also had an impact more recently with demand for puppies soaring, as highlighted by the Government today (23 July), and concerns being raised by vets dealing with sick puppies as a result.
Current importation rules and the ability to sell exploited puppies under pet sales licences undermines Lucy’s Law and creates a set of double standards for potential buyers and regulators. This makes things very difficult for licensing authorities, but most importantly it erodes welfare standards for puppies and their mothers. Campaigners are calling for action to address this through a petition which already has over 70,000 signatures in a short space of time (71,935 at the time of writing).
The petition states that ‘Selling imported pups like this is cruel & appears to contradict the Government’s own advice to always physically “see puppies interacting with their mothers in their place of birth” as with Lucy’s Law in England’.
An initial Government response to the campaign was published on 16 July 2020. Campaigners hope that the petition will reach 100,000 signatures, as this would force a debate in Parliament. This would provide an opportunity to address the current position which undermines Lucy’s Law, puppy welfare and the effective regulation of dog breeding and puppy sales in England.