Rethink call on Welsh government's puppy farm plans

Puppy (generic) There is a call for a maximum ratio of one member of staff to every 20 dogs

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Dog lovers in Wales want a rethink on a key part of proposals to crack down on poor practice by some puppy breeders.

The Welsh government is consulting on new animal welfare regulations to control the breeding of dogs.

It aims to stop "puppy farms", where dogs may be kept in cramped conditions with little concern for their needs.

Ministers plan to introduce a staff-to-dog ratio where a full-time member of staff can care for up to 30 dogs, but opponents say the figure is too high.

Many dog breeders and animal welfare campaigners told the BBC Eye on Wales programme that they believe that the politicians have got their sums wrong.

'Far too high'

Emma Wittenstrom, from near Haverfordwest, is a licensed breeder of miniature schnauzers.

"I think that's far too high a number," she said. "I have got 12 dogs at the moment and I wouldn't want anymore.

"I don't feel that I could justify having more dogs. I think they need personal, individual contact.

"I personally think that 15 is quite a lot to one person. That's based on what I'm doing.

"I'm spending all my time, every day, with my dogs. Definitely no more than 20 if you stretch it a bit further."

Ms Wittenstrom's concerns are echoed by Cariad, a coalition of rescue organisations and campaign groups across Wales set up to fight for improved welfare standards in dog breeding.

David Grimsell helped write the organisation's response to the Welsh government's consultation, which closes shortly.

He wants to see a return to a maximum ratio of one member of staff to every 20 dogs, as was proposed by a panel of experts when ministers first began to develop their proposals and included in an earlier consultation.

Without that change, he questions whether staff will have time to implement another proposed new requirement, for written socialisation programmes for puppies to help ensure they are prepared to live in a family home.

'Not realistic'

"Dogs require care seven days a week," said Mr Grimsell. "One member of staff looking after 30 dogs on a 37-hour working week would have five hours a day.

Start Quote

The idea that one person could possibly provide that for 30 dogs, given all the other things they have to do, is simply not realistic”

End Quote David Grimsell Cariad

"That's pretty much 10 minutes per day per dog."

"In order for dogs to have adequate welfare they need to be exercised and have variety and stimulation.

"The idea that one person could possibly provide that for 30 dogs, given all the other things they have to do, is simply not realistic."

While Cariad questions the level at which the staff to dog ratio is being pitched, dog lovers question whether the principle has any merit at all.

"Even if you set it at 30, that might be far too low a ratio for certain breeds," said Caroline Kisko, secretary of the Kennel Club.

"If you had 30 small dogs that would be a very different proposition to 30 Great Danes.

"If it allows the local authority and close somebody down, then fine. But if they were able to close them down on the basis of the staff to dog ratios there would be a lot more that they could close them down on."

"This is really a point of semantics. We don't see a great deal of merit in it."

But Pembrokeshire's animal health manager, Nigel Watts, who monitors the 19 licensed breeders within the council, believes the proposed regulation will be a useful and flexible tool for his officers.

He said: "This is a maximum. If the breeding establishment does not comply with licensing conditions then the licensing authority will reduce that staffing ratio to below one to thirty if the person shows that they can't look after the dogs that they've been licenced."

Launching the current consultation, the Welsh government said that by proposing to make it mandatory and be a minimum of one person to 30 dogs, it was reflecting the current advice to local authorities from the British Veterinary Association and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, amongst others.

Environment Minister John Griffiths said that he was "committed to raising standards of animal welfare" and that he hoped that his proposed regulations would be a "vital tool in helping to ensure exemplary standards of welfare for dogs in Wales."

The consultation on the Welsh Government's proposals closes on 23 May.

BBC Wales' Eye on Wales is broadcast on BBC Radio Wales at 13:00 BST on Sunday 20 March, and is also available on the BBC iPlayer.

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