Animal welfare groups pushing for concerted action against puppy farming

Illustrative photo: archive of Radio Prague

Czech animal rights activists have been ringing alarm bells over the horrific business of puppy farming within which dogs are bred in abominable conditions in Central and Eastern Europe and transported for sale wherever there is demand for them. A petition for the Czech authorities to clamp down on this illegal business has now been signed by 16,000 people and NGOs are pushing to raise awareness of the problem among the public. I spoke to Martina Načeradská, a Czech vet who is actively involved in the fight against puppy farms, about the problem.

Martina Načeradská, photo: archive of Martina Načeradská
“There are dogs that live in really bad conditions. They eat their own stool, they live in urine-soaked cages, they have almost no food and nobody takes care of their health. It is likely that they are never seen by a vet.”

So these are private breeders who export puppies to European countries, mainly to countries of Western Europe?

“Yes, and it is illegal. It is illegal and almost nobody knows about them so we do not know how many of them are here.”

It is a European problem and the producer countries are in central and Eastern Europe, I understand?

“Yes, that’s right according to the results of a study conducted by Four Paws, an NGO based in Austria, the Czech Republic is mostly a transit country. The main producers are Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania.”

And the dogs are bred in abominable conditions…

“Yes, there are of course good breeders and those bad breeders get them in a bad situation, because good breeders breed dogs as well as they can and this is something really bad. Also the transports are dangerous. For example there is a really bad virus – parvovirus –which is really resistant so if there is one puppy which is affected many others die because of it. And there is almost no way to get rid of it when this virus is in the car. Recently I saw a puppy transported from Slovakia, its new owner bought this puppy which was allegedly vaccinated against the parvovirus and this puppy died seven days after they had bought it – even though it got veterinary care it died - so this virus is really severe. “

So these puppies are transported to European states to be sold illegally….

“A typical example is Spain. That was when I first realized how bad it is. I was contacted by a woman over the internet and she informed me about the situation. Typically they put the puppies in a cage or something resembling a cage and secure their transport by low cost companies. Those companies do not know that they are transporting live creatures, there is no check at the airport. Maybe it will happen in time because I am in contact with the state veterinary administration and they have already started to do something about it, but it will take time. Those puppies are closed in a box for hours – twenty-four- or forty, with no food and no water. If they are lucky they will be picked up at the airport or somewhere in Spain. If they are not lucky it can take several days. My friend told me that when they open such boxes there are dead puppies and live puppies together. It is something you cannot begin to imagine – how bad it is. The problem is that these breeders are a sort of mafia, they work together, they are connected, they warn each other about police checks and everything so it requires close cooperation by the police of different states to make any kind of headway.”

Illustrative photo: Kristýna Maková
How long has this been going on for – is it a new phenomenon in Europe, relatively speaking?

“It has been going on for several years. I think that open borders helped a lot, because there are now no borders in Europe, no checks. Only if they get an alert they will do a check. The Germans are really great in that. They have people checking and Four Paws are working there. But the situation is such that they sometimes check legal transports so the good breeders are angry, because even legal transports are in a bad state here.”

How is it possible that animals can be bred in such conditions here in Central Europe, without any inspections, without any checks? Are not animal rights activists protesting? How is it possible that this has been going on and that there is a relatively low awareness of the problem?

“That’s because they usually use some hidden places like basements, cellars, old sheds for farm animals…but I am really happy now because people are growing more aware and if the police are alerted to a potential problem, they are going to check it out. I am cooperating with the police now to teach them how to recognize how old a puppy is. For example, they take the puppies from the bitch when they are three weeks old. That is too young. Under Czech law puppies can be taken from the bitch when they are 50 days old, that’s still early but it is better than three weeks. And you can tell how old they are because canine teeth come out when they are three to four weeks old. So if you are buying a puppy and it doesn’t have any teeth, please leave it and run. Please do not buy it, because if you buy such a puppy you are supporting this torture.”

Prague hosted a conference of animal welfare organizations in May of this year. You helped organize it. What was the outcome? Is there any international coordination – a concerted effort to battle this?

“Yes, I am really happy I was involved in that because I was responsible for inviting people from abroad. I was really sad because I did not get an answer from Great Britain, but I was able to bring together people from Belgium, Sweden, Germany, from Spain and France. And now I have news that after this conference the people from Spain and France started to work together and people from the Czech Veterinary Administration started to work with people from Belgium, which is really great, and people from France invited us – me and two other vets from the State Veterinary Administration and Ministry of Agriculture to go to France, visit their agriculture ministry and become acquainted with their law. The French have excellent legislation pertaining to the breeding of animals, their living conditions and of course registering in an international micro-chip database.”

Illustrative photo: Mariana Figueroa / freeimages
So they have found a way of tackling this problem?

“Yes.”

And what is the solution?

“The solution is to check on breeders, on the conditions in which animals are bred. But the problem is that the activity is illegal so it is as with everything that is illegal. Without people watching them, people who are buying puppies or even just people walking their dog we cannot succeed. Because there is no way that the state administration and police can check up on everything.”

So what is needed – a change of the law?

“Yes, a change of the law and very importantly, to raise awareness of the problem among people buying dogs. Because as long as you have people who want to buy low-cost puppies then these people will find a way how to produce them. So the really important part is to inform the public. I found out that in England, Australia and the US they have puppy farm awareness days. So together with some of my friends from the Senate and some NGOs we organized something similar here in the Czech Republic. In several cities including Prague we held a puppy farm awareness day where we tried to inform as many people as possible about puppy farms, what goes on there and that they shouldn’t buy puppies from unreliable breeders. We gave them a list of ten practical recommendations as to when they should not buy a puppy and leave.”

And in terms of the legal changes –what needs to be done?

Most important is the introduction of a micro-chip data base because if we have a law that will force people to make their dogs identifiable then we can gain some control. In France when a breeder has puppies all the puppies leaving the breeder have to be micro chipped. The breeder sends a paper to the state microchip data base and the data base sends the information to the new owner. It works like car registering, it is the same principle. The microchip number is like a license plate. If you change the car you have to go to the office as the seller and the buyer has to go to the office too.”

And such a register does not exist here at this point?

“No. It is voluntary. If you are worried your dog could stray then you can get them micro chipped.”

So it is just for the owner’s convenience….There is now a Czech campaign against puppy farms and dog trafficking aided by some celebrities. What is the main aim of this endeavor?

“They would like lawmakers to change the law to protect animals better. That’s the main goal of this organization and I support them because it is necessary.”

How many dogs are we talking about here? How massive is this problem, not just in the Czech Republic but across Europe?

Illustrative photo: archive of Radio Prague
“I cannot say. Since it is illegal we do not know, but I have information that there were ten thousand puppies transported from the Czech Republic to Spain in the course of one month, for several months in a row. So it is not a few puppies, it is thousands of puppies.”

Are you seeing a will on the part of the Czech authorities to take action against this?

“Yes, today I had a meeting with the chief of the animal welfare department of the Ministry of Agriculture and we discussed microchip registration – some of the aspects that I was informed about in France. So we have already started the process but we need as many politicians on our side as possible in order to change the law. Firstly, we need a data base of micro-chips and then we need to focus on setting down breeding conditions because it is really important to have some rules. I saw the law in France and they have really strict rules about how many dogs can be kept in how big a space and so on and we would like to use this.”

Is this being dealt with at all on the EU level?

“Yes, Four Paws have been spreading the message and I am in contact with one EU politician and they have really started to talk about it. I even heard that they soon plan to speak about micro chip registration all over Europe because it is really necessary to know when dogs or any other animals are transported from one country to another. And with such registration we would know about the movements of these animals.”

So in your daily practice you come into contact with these ailing dogs?

“Yes, I see several during the week and I am getting really angry because people think they are saving the animal, but by buying such a puppy they are supporting this really bad business.”

I have seen articles and heard from people who say they saved a dog from this fate and that in a few years’ time its condition improved – so you are not advising people to do that?

“No, because they are supporting this business. Yes, they are saving one animal but they are making thousands of others suffer.”