/ Parenting, Shopping

Where’s the protection for puppies and their owners?

Have you ever thought about what might happen if you bought a puppy that got sick or died soon after? What rights would you have? Here’s Ari Winfield from the RSPCA on why they think there needs to be a ‘Puppy Contract’.

Imagine you’ve just bought a new fridge freezer. You’ve spent about £1,500 – you wanted the top-of-the-range (with an icebox, and one of those salad crispers).

If your new fridge broke soon after you bought it, you’d expect you’d be entitled to get a full refund or replacement from the retailer, wouldn’t you? And you’d be right, as per your consumer rights.

Now, imagine you’re going to buy a puppy.* A beautiful, fluffy little Pomeranian. The puppy costs £1,500, but the breed lives for around 9+ years – so it’s just a one-off cost, and is really an investment into a new and very special family member.

You see an ad online for the puppy, who is being sold by a family nearby. You arrange to view her, and are delighted when the seller says you can take her away that very day. You separate with your cash, and bring her home.

Imagine that within a few days of purchasing your puppy, she falls seriously ill. Despite the vets trying their best to save her, your puppy dies. Now, save for the huge emotional trauma that this has cost you and your family, you are also struck financially; left with thousands of pounds of vets fees, and not to mention that initial purchase cost of £1,500.

Protection for buying puppies

Following a dreadful event like this, some buyers would demand that a breeder provide them with a replacement puppy. Some may want a refund, and may also ask for their vets bills to be covered.

Though, if – like the majority of puppy buyers – you buy from a private seller ie. someone who is not a “trader” of puppies, you do not have the benefit of consumer protection law. If you buy from a private seller, you have very little protection if the unimaginable happens. Unlike with your fridge freezer.

I’ve made this comparison, because sadly many puppies are being sold as if they’re nothing more than consumable products. Puppies are not ‘products’ though. Puppies are living, breathing, feeling animals, who deserve greater protection. As do the unsuspecting buyers – who don’t deserve the heartache if it all goes wrong.

And it does happen. At the RSPCA, we have seen a 122% increase in calls about sick and dying puppies over the past five years, as a result of unscrupulous criminal breeders and dealers. The owners of these puppies may never get their money back and nothing will cover the cost of their heartache.

The Puppy Contract

So how can you safeguard yourself? Quite simply, we propose you use the Puppy Contract. The Puppy Contract is a legally binding contract covering the sale and purchase of a puppy. It was drawn up by us at the RSPCA and the British Veterinary Association Animal Welfare Foundation, and has been endorsed by charities such as the Dogs Trust and the PDSA.

The contract covers the health and welfare issues you should ask a breeder about, as well as giving guidance about these issues – so you can understand their answers. These are the key things you should be looking out for when you visit your puppy – so that you can make an informed decision about the puppy you buy.

You can download the Puppy Contract, print it out, and sign it with your chosen puppy breeder. Any responsible and caring dog breeder or seller should be happy to complete this with you. And if they don’t know the answers, or are reluctant to provide the information, walk away. Always be buyer beware – it’s just not worth taking the risk.

Have you ever bought a puppy and experienced problems like those described in my scenario? Do you think new pet owners should have some protection?

*Scenario represents the thought process of a hypothetical puppy buyer, rather than a how the RSPCA would actually advise on buying a puppy.

This is a guest contribution by Ari at the RSPCA. All opinions are Ari’s own, not necessarily those of Which?


“we have seen a 122% increase in calls about sick and dying puppies over the past five years”

When we see percentages quoted it helps to have the underlying figures to get a sense of scale. Can you oblige please.

The concept seems quite clever for the Contract. It is remarkably thorough and I liked it. However whether some people will find it over complex did cross my mind.

I quote these figures from the RSPCA site:

The number of calls we receive about puppy farms have more than doubled over the last five years. So far this year we’ve received 3,232 calls – a 122 per cent increase from five years ago.
In a bid to raise awareness about the puppy farming industry, we’ve released a run down of the country’s ‘hot spots’ when it comes to reports of puppy farming in 2014.
Greater London racked up the highest number of calls (262) – followed closely by Greater Manchester (209).

What is not clear is the number of puppy farms as opposed to the number of calls about them . So if a dozen people ring regarding a particular puppy farm then the number of farms is substantially lower than call growth might indicate. Is the RSPCA able to advise how many separate people/farms exist? And is there any form of correlation to the number 3 years ago?

I think it wise to be precise particularly if emotive messages are being used. Educating the public needs to be based on figures that allow confidence. The number of expensive puppies dying, knock on vet bills, and anti-social behaviour might be the kind of useful Conversation piece.

The RSPCA also in its link suggests puppies are being brought in from the Continent and Ireland and sold in the UK. Perfectly acceptable under EU one market you would think however given the age of the animals , health etc must be a concern it is illegal smuggling that is part of the problem and criminal gangs.

I am not a dog lover myself but I have concerns for the welfare and humane treatment of all animals, as well as the protection of the buyers. It seems to me from casual observation that there has been an explosion of ‘amateur’ pet breeding for profit over the last few years and some of the methods and conditions involved must, at the very least, be questionable. It is also a trade where the customer is looking to get the favoured breed at the lowest cost and will buy from a convenient local breeder without making too many enquiries into the background. Equally some of the sellers might be trying to squeeze the maximum return out of a natural happening.

Legally there is a dividing line is between the commercial breeding of dogs in compliance with a local authority dog breeding licence and those who just happen to be selling off some unwanted puppies from a litter produced by their own pets in order to gain a little extra income [to put the most favourable interpretation on it] . A licence is required by anybody running a “breeding establishment for dogs” and the definition of that includes someone who keeps a b***h at any premises and the b***h gives birth to puppies at any time within a period of 12 months, and four or more other litters are born during the 12 month period to b*****s owned by the keeper whether at the same premises or not [and there are various other condition and qualifications]. So there is a lot of headroom for the breeding and sale of dogs [as well as some scope for a few artful dodges] before a dog breeding licence is required and the compliance regime is applied. I suspect an enormous amount of the buying of puppies happens within this unregulated, and probably undeclared, part of the trade. Professional dog breeding to pedigree standards with full Kennel Club recognition requires a considerable amount of capital investment and I don’t see much evidence of that so most of that business is probably already in the hands of well-established breeders at licensed premises with all necessary consents and full business compliance. I am not saying that everything at that end of the spectrum is all safe and above-board however.

I imagine that the recent growth in the trade in desirable dogs has been largely in domestic situations and that the majority of the people advertising puppies for sale within the licence-exempt sector are true dog lovers who have brought the puppies up well and and will want them to go to good homes. But are they up to coping with the demands of the Puppy Contract? It implies a fairly high level of comprehension and requires a considerable amount of clerical/administrative organisation, especially in record-keeping, to be able to satisfy the terms of the contract. Some conscientious sellers will manage it but I fear plenty of others will reject it and the buyers who need the most protection might not get it. Buying a puppy is an emotional and sensitive act with enduring consequences over the life of the pet, but money is involved and that changes everything. As ever, any form of regulation is in the price and will affect profit margins. Given that there appears to be an excess of dogs for sale It might be argued philosophically that no real dog lover would wish to bring into the world any dogs which might have an uncertain future, be uncared for later, or suffer illness or disability, so that therefore no-one who speculatively produces dogs for sale could possibly be a true dog lover.

Unfortunately there will also be a number of less-conscientious puppy-sellers who do not look after their animals well, have bred from too limited a gene pool, and for whom it is just a question of making some easy money, and they will not enter into a puppy contract. These people will carry on and it crossed my mind that if prospective buyers walk away from a purchase because the seller will not make a contract with them, and the puppy [or indeed a whole litter] develops a serious illness or disabling condition, what fate will befall those unsold puppies? Will they receive professional veterinary treatment? – Unlikely. Will they be dealt with in an inhumane way? – Possibly. Is allowing a trade in animals at all through unlicensed breeding and rearing acceptable in the 21st century? What does the RSPCA think?

I fully support the puppy contract and the whole puppy information pack regime and I hope they reach the right audiences, but I fear there will still be a lot of poor practice, and some suffering, in the private trade and a lot of disappointment among buyers as well as no let-up in the concerns over animal welfare.

Would a similar contract apply to goldfish?

Oh Yes! They would also have to sign, as well as Terrapins, Gerbils, Gekkoes, and especially Norwegian Blue Parrots which are notoriously prone to fatal conditions soon after purchase.

But only after eating Venezuelan Beaver cheese…

I’ve just read this awful story of a Spaniel mum being left on the side of the road with her dead puppies in e plastic bag: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/12171179/Spaniel-found-guarding-bodies-of-her-dead-puppies.html

It’s a sickening tale but I fear not uncommon as animals are being abandoned on an increasing scale. I hope the publicity leads to tracing the dog’s owner. In an oblique way I also wonder whether the owner of the puppies’ father can be brought into the frame as I suspect the litter was not entirely accidental. Spaniels are popular dogs and there is a ready market for them so it is especially sad that this new-born litter has been allowed to perish.

I read today that the HMRC have recovered a total of £5,393,035 in unpaid taxes from 257 separate cases in pursuance of their investigations into unlawful puppy breeding and smuggling. This is good news as it will no doubt have also stopped some of the inhumane and unhealthy practices of numerous unlicensed breeders and the exploitation of many buyers of dogs through the black market. The various animal welfare charities and organisations participated in the investigations and have rescued many dogs from intensive and unsafe husbandry.