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In context: Welfare of Dogs Bill

Aaron Chown/PA Wire/PA Images

In context: Welfare of Dogs Bill

While this bill was drafted before the pandemic and its lockdowns, its relevance has been thrown into the spotlight as the demand for canine companions has surged.

With so many of us working from home, it’s unsurprising that people have taken the opportunity to acquire a fuzzy friend, but that trend brings its own problems. 

Inflated prices, opportunistic sellers and impulse purchases have turned dogs into a commodity – issues which are addressed in this member’s bill proposed by SNP MSP Christine Grahame. 

What is the purpose of the bill?

The bill aims to strengthen the regulation of breeding and selling dogs in Scotland, in addition to establishing a more responsible approach to acquiring one. 

Ultimately, the intention is to stop irresponsible dog ownership and stifle unscrupulous sellers or those involved in puppy farming.

“I hope it makes it very difficult for the illegal trade, puppy factory farming, and well-meaning but wrong purchases on Gumtree,” Grahame tells Holyrood

“You’re not buying a handbag, it’s a wee life. In its own way, it has a personality. At the same time, it’s to educate people on what it means to take on a dog, take on a puppy. 

“By making you have to think hard, you might defer, you might get a different breed. You might say, ‘Well, I’m in lockdown and I’m working from home, but will I be working from home in two years’ time?’ Maybe not, but your dog will still be there… It saves a lot of pain for people.”

What are some of the key points of the bill?

The bill is divided into four parts, covering breeding, unlicensed litters, good practice when buying and selling dogs, and general provisions. 

Any litters not bred as part of licensed activity would need registered before the puppies are advertised, sold or transferred to another owner. So, a person who owns a female that produces a litter not covered by a dog breeding licence would have to register the litter in a Scotland-wide database before advertising, transferring or selling the puppies. 

Puppy advertisements would need a breeding licence number or litter registration number. Additionally, people registering a litter would need to provide the microchip numbers for each of the puppies in the litter, either at the point of registration or before sale. 

Protecting the welfare of dogs does not end with the breeders however, and so the bill extends to the topic of good practice when it comes to buying and selling. The bill requires a code of practice that should be followed by someone considering taking on a dog, as well as anyone considering selling or giving a dog away. 

What would that code contain? Well, it includes the questions a potential puppy or dog owner should consider before they take on an animal as a pet.

This ranges from whether the breed of the dog is suitable for you, to whether it would fit in with the household. It also advises that someone buying a dog and the person selling should meet in person before an agreement is struck.

The guidance also says the prospective owner should see the puppy with its mother, unless this is not practicable, and a puppy should not be sold or given away before it is eight weeks old. 

What difference would the bill make?

The estimated value of the puppy trade in Scotland is considerable: conservative estimates put it at around £13m a year, according to scoping research commissioned by the Scottish Government. The same research characterises the market as consisting of legally regulated, legally unregulated as well as illegal and irresponsible breeding and sales.

Tighter regulation improves the traceability of puppies, should one experience any issues, and means people are more accountable for their litters, while education helps potential dog owners make an informed decision. 

What is the timetable for the bill being passed?

It won’t proceed to stage one this year because of constraints on the committee caused by COVID, but “it’s ready, it’s on the shelf, ready to go,” Grahame says. 

She hopes to be re-elected, so the bill can take steps forward next year. Grahame adds: “Part of the reason I want to come back, apart from independence, is my bill. It’s unfinished business. The officials put a great deal of work into it and it deserves to see the light of day.”

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