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Exposing the dark reality of puppy farms - Animal Rights Awareness Week

In 2007, Michelle Minehan adopted Lily, a Shi Tzu cross, after she was rescued from the horrors of a puppy farm. 

She lifts the lid on the business of illegal puppy farming in Australia and the simplest and most direct action we can take to end puppy factory cruelty.

"Like many other animal lovers and pet owners, I had no idea these farms existed.

Seeing the ongoing physical and mental pain caused by her life on the farm as a breeding mother, inspired me to raise awareness of the plight of these animals."

Michelle's Shih Tzu Lily discovers the simple joy of playing with a toy

Animal welfare organisations Four Paws Australia and Oscar’s Law are two of the many not-for-profits also hoping to shine the spotlight on the inhumane practices of puppy farms during this Animal Rights Awareness Week (19-25 June 2023).

Both organisations explain the brutal reality of puppy farms, the welfare concerns they pose, and the urgent need for awareness, education, responsible adoption practices, and legislative change.

What is a puppy farm?

Many Australians every day, particularly those drawn to designer breeds, are unwittingly supporting the cruel industry of puppy farms.

To put it simply, puppy farms are commercial breeding facilities where dogs are treated as commodities rather than sentient, living beings.

Four Paws Australia is one of the animal welfare organisations working tirelessly to raise awareness about the brutal reality of puppy farms.

“These facilities keep parent animals, often in deplorable conditions, solely for the purpose of repeated breeding,” says Rebecca Linigen from Four Paws Australia.

“The animals suffer from overcrowding, confinement, overbreeding, early separation of infants from mothers, inadequate veterinary care, and unsanitary housing conditions.

“These breeders view animals as breeding machines, subjecting them to harsh conditions and prioritising high-volume production of litters.”
Unfortunately, the ever-increasing popularity in online purchasing has made it harder for animal welfare organisations and campaigners to put an end to the trade.

“It has become extremely common for Australians to buy animals online via classified ads sites,” says Rebecca.

“But Australians must recognise that the convenience of online pet purchases often supports a cruel industry that prioritises profit over animal welfare.”

The designer breed factor

Along with the increase in online purchasing, the desire to own a so-called ‘designer breed’ has also significantly contributed to the puppy farm epidemic in Australia.

“Designer breeds often carry a higher price tag, making them desirable for some individuals seeking specific traits,” says Rebecca.

“However, it is crucial to recognise that these dogs, too, can be found in shelters.”

The breeding dogs

Australian puppy scammers profiteer from animal abuse - Credit: FOUR PAWS Australia

Life on a puppy farm for all animals is miserable, though it’s the mother dogs who endure unimaginable physical and emotional hardships.

Pushed to breed continuously for profit, they endure physical and psychological injuries.

Shockingly, Rebecca says, some breeding dogs are subjected to neglect, confinement, lack of exercise, and inadequate nutrition.

“The relentless breeding pushes their bodies are pushed to the limit, resulting in severe injuries from constant pregnancies and birthing,” says Rebecca.

While the males are spared all the side effects from repeated forced breeding, the father dogs are often neglected, isolated, and deprived of social contact.

“It’s not uncommon to see that some dogs are chained, deprived of exercise, underfed, and subjected to mistreatment.”

The puppies

Puppies born in these grim conditions are forcibly separated from their mothers prematurely, denying them essential social contact during their crucial development stages.

The welfare concerns faced by animals in puppy farms are extensive and distressing:
  • Overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions lead to physical and psychological health complications.
  • Lack of proper veterinary care further exacerbates their suffering, leaving them vulnerable and in pain.
  • Then, barely a few weeks old, they are swiftly sold to pet stores or advertised online.

Oscar’s Law and the fight for change of Australian puppy farm legislation

“Puppy factories are incredibly cruel denying dogs their basic rights and failing to meet their emotional, behavioural and social needs,” Debra Tranter, Oscar’s Law.

Australian not-for-profit organisation Oscar’s Law has long been campaigning for legislative change and, ultimately, an end the factory farming of companion animals.

Founder Debra Tranter has personally been fighting since 1994 to raise awareness of the industry since she first discovered Australia’s largest puppy factory in Victoria.

Housing more than 500 adult dogs, the Ballarat farm was owned by a local veterinarian who was also a state MP.
“He sold the puppies in his pet shop, but also exported puppies to overseas pet shops,” says Debra.

It was in 2010, though, when Debra’s campaigning took a more personal direction, after she rescued a dog named Oscar from a puppy farm in Central Victoria.

After the police turned up at her doorstep to seize Oscar and return him to the farm, Debra realised she needed to change the focus of her campaigning if she was going to successfully fight puppy farms.

“It was a very low point of my campaign; I felt I had failed this little dog,” explains Debra.
“I was fighting legislation that protected the commercial interests of puppy farmers, rather than protect the dogs’ welfare.”
That’s when Oscar’s Law was born. Debra then shifted focus to encouraging members of the public to advocate in their communities by lobbying local MPs.

“Rather than continually showing the cruel, and at times graphic images, from inside puppy factories, I focused on more positive stories of dogs that had been rescued from puppy factories.”

Debra soon saw the success her new method was having in engaging with the public and encouraging them to support the cause.
“Sometimes, cruel images can have the opposite effect of what we are trying to achieve, and simply disengage people as they are just confronting.”
Current legislation

While there is still a long way to go, Debra says Australian laws are starting to provide more protection for breeding dogs.

Where does your dog come from?
Credit: Oscar's Law
“We have achieved having puppy factories on the political agenda in every state of Australia,” says Debra. 
“Something unheard of when I first started campaigning.

“Victoria passed the most comprehensive legislation in 2017, and the South Australia government has committed to passing similar legislation.

“Significantly, Western Australia has passed legislation that will see an end to animals sold in pet shops.”

Queensland and New South Wales are both behind in terms of supportive legislation, but Debra is hopeful NSW will soon have similar legislation to Victoria.

But while the laws in some states have been a great step forward, Debra says that's often hindered by the inconsistency of the nationwide laws.

“Since Victoria passed the legislation in 2017, we saw many puppy farmers relocate over the border into New South Wales and South Australia where the laws are weaker.
“We need to have legislation in every state, so puppy farmers have nowhere to hide.
“We also need each state to recognise criminal cruelty convictions and banning orders Australia wide.

“Currently we have many puppy farmers that have been banned for 10 years or life, simply move interstate and continue operating their puppy farm because state banning orders are not recognised once you cross into another state.”

When asked how the public can help end puppy farms, Debra says it’s simple - by starting a conversation. “There are still so many people that don’t know we factory farm puppies in Australia,” she says.

Once people know the truth behind the pet shop window or glossy internet ad, they are much more likely to do their homework and ensure they are not supporting these puppy farmers.

“It’s all about sharing knowledge and educating people, rather than pointing the finger and blaming. People don't know what they don't know; I find the majority of Australians love their pets and would do anything not to support this cruel industry, we just need to be able to reach people and educate them.”

How adopting and fostering shelter animals helps end puppy farms

When it comes to bringing a new furry friend into our lives, adoption from shelters and rescue organisations should be the top choice.

Shelter facilities across the country are overflowing with animals eagerly awaiting their chance to find a loving family.

Rebecca explains that by choosing adoption, the new owners are not only finding a loyal companion, but they’ve also saved lives and alleviated the burden on overcrowded shelters.
“In Australia alone, tens of thousands of pets are euthanised each year due to the lack of available homes,” says Rebecca.
One of the significant advantages of adopting from reputable animal shelters or rescue groups is the thorough assessment that each animal undergoes.

“Prior to adoption, animals are examined for their health and behaviour, ensuring they are suitable for a loving home environment.

Vaccinations, microchipping, and desexing are also standard procedures, ensuring that the animals are ready for their new chapter in life.”

Adoption literally saves lives

Adoption is a life-changing decision for both the animal and the owner, and brings immense joy, companionship, and unconditional love.

With tens of thousands of animals being put to sleep in shelters across Australia every year, the impact of choosing adoption can’t be overstated.

These puppy farm dogs were rescued from
squalid conditions - Credit: Oscar's Law
While the demand for breeder-bought dogs perpetuates the cycle of overbreeding and places additional strain on the shelter system, resulting in more innocent lives lost.

“Adopting a shelter animal not only saves them from potential euthanasia, but also makes a compassionate choice that promotes animal welfare,” says Rebecca. Even just a fraction of Australians opting to rescue shelter animals could halt the unnecessary loss of healthy companion animals.

“So, by promoting responsible adoption practices and supporting reputable breeders or rescue organisations, we can collectively work towards eliminating puppy farms altogether. And this would ensure a brighter future for our beloved companions.”

Steps we can all take to put an end to puppy farming

✔️ Research is the key. If you are thinking about getting a dog, make sure you do your homework.

✔️ Buy from a registered breeder. These dogs are not over-bred, they are treated well, and you will most likely save in veterinary fees in the future!

✔️ Adopt from your local shelter. Older dogs need homes too, and they can be the perfect companion to a household. In some instances, older dogs are much more appropriate for a family than a new puppy.

✔️ It’s simple, do not buy a puppy online if they aren’t a registered breeder, or from a pet shop.

✔️ Advocate for the better treatment of these animals by writing to your local member to support laws regulating the sale and breeding of puppies.

✔️ If you see dogs advertised online, contact the relevant authorities and report it.

written by Michelle Minehan from Animal Friendly Life, June 2023 for Australian Dog Lover (all rights reserved).

About our writer

Michelle Minehan is the Founder and Editor of animal news and storytelling website, Animal Friendly Life.

Michelle adopted her dog, Lily, from the RSPCA after she was rescued from a puppy farm in the southern highlands of NSW.

Having studied journalism and working at an animal organisation at the time of adopting Lily, Michelle decided to turn her joint love of animals and writing into Animal Friendly Life.

Follow her blog on Facebook
@animal_friendly_life on Instagram 
or @AnimalFriendly4 on Twitter.

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