Battersea Dogs & Cats Home established an End Backstreet Breeding campaign in 2015 aimed at lowering the licensing threshold to two litters in stead of five as at present and closing loopholes to stop the sale of dogs below eight weeks of age to pet shops and dealers.
There are currently 895 licensed dog breeders using an estimated 13,425 breeding bitches (assuming that each bitch has one litter per year) in 379 Local Authorities areas in England, Wales and Scotland; an increase of 32% since 2010. 40% are located in 6% of the local authorities, clustering in mid and west Wales, Lincolnshire, East Anglia and some rural areas of Scotland. The law in Wales changed in April 2015, licensing all breeders at the third litter and bringing a further 500 breeders into the scope of licensing. The costs of inspection can be reclaimed through the application fee. One third of Local Authorities do not license any breeders and fewer than 12% of puppies born in Great Britain are bred by licensed breeders in any given year. Effective enforcement of regulations varies markedly from one area to another. Licensed dog breeders produce an estimated 67,125 puppies annually, some using 10 or fewer breeding bitches but five with more than 100 breeding bitches and the largest with 200. Just 5 licences were refused in 2014 for failing to provide adequate accommodation or levels of supervision. 88% of puppies are bred outside of the licensing regulations.
Although the average number of bitches used for breeding in any one establishment is 10, large establishments are responsible for 75% of breeding. Staff in councils where few licences are issued may not have much expertise or training in dealing with dogs. The C.A.R.I.A.D campaign for instance, is well aware of puppy farms that are repeatedly given licences in spite of appalling breeding practices and conditions. This was also highlighted in the recent BBC TV documentary The Dog Factory. In addition to large variations in the fee structure between local authorities, new applications may be required to pay additional vet fees costing between £100 and £300. Basic fees vary between £23 in Glasgow to £741 in the London Borough of Lambeth, in spite of the fact that local authorities are prohibited from making a profit from the licence fee, setting a high fee as a deterrent or setting a fee low to attract businesses to their area.
Reducing the legal requirement to obtain a licence to two litters a year is not likely to improve the situation. Although this campaign should be supported, it does not go far enough. Anyone breeding a dog should be licensed and resources need to be put into enforcement as fees are collected to pay for it. There should be a massive public information campaign and breeders should be traced through online advertisements and the remaining pet shops that still sell dogs.