Puppy farmers are moving their businesses to NSW to escape tough new laws on the breeding of dogs in Victoria, heightening animal welfare concerns.
At least three farms have been approved in NSW in recent months and several others have applied.
Farmers claim the new laws are too restrictive and will drive them out of business, but animal welfare activists have denounced the trend, citing the lack of regulation and cases of cruelty on puppy farms in NSW.
In Victoria puppy farms must have only 10 females for breeding as of 2020, making it the first state in Australia to ban the sale of animals in pet shops unless they are from a registered shelter.
NSW has no regulation stopping anyone breeding as many puppies as they like and selling to whoever they like.
Chair of The Animal Justice Party and member of the Legislative Council, Emma Hurst is trying to change this legislation in NSW.
“Just last week the RSPCA raided two puppy farms with allegations of extreme animal cruelty,” she said.
“The problem here in NSW is it’s legal to factory farm dogs, where we have hundreds of dogs pumping out litter after litter.”
The Animal Justice Party know of three that have just had approval to move from Victoria to NSW despite one being convicted of cruelty at their Tatura puppy farm in Victoria.
NSW is yet to update its legislation on puppy farms which can see up to 300 dogs mistreated – the dogs that end up at the pet shops.
Ms Hurst wants to see the legislation in NSW exceed that of Victoria before the state becomes the hub of puppy farming in Australia.
“NSW is really falling behind on animal protection laws, we’ve got the lowest penalties for animal cruelty, we’ve got the lowest amount of money going to our enforcement organisations,” she said.
But registered breeders think the harsh legialstion in Victoria pushes ethical breeders out of work, to NSW or more people underground.
Tracee Rushton from the Australian Association of Pet Dog Breeders said putting the pinch on registered breeders is counterproductive.
“The regulations absolutely need to be tightened but it needs to be done so people can still run a business,” Ms Rushton said.
“NSW needs to learn from Victoria’s legislation because in Victoria it’s starting to move underground because the legislation is too harsh.”
Victoria’s new law has already spawned the phenomenon of ‘guardian dogs’ – where breeders keep 10 females on the premises while any extra go to live with families and return to the farms for breeding at other times.
“It’s a horrible life for these poor dogs,” she said.
“The registered breeders want the same thing as the animal advocates want really, no animal cruelty.”
The owner of Amey’s Puppies in Victoria, who did not want to be named, has just purchased a farm in NSW with a license to take 80 dogs but feels tentative about starting up.
“Frankly speaking anything that comes out in the media makes it sensational – I have heard seven or eight permits have been approved to make the move,” he said.
“If I give you my name I will get non-stop nasty phone calls.”
He believes he can’t make the move to NSW now as people will think he treats his dogs badly.
“All animal activists treat all breeders the same. Yes, there are dodgy people in the industry but that doesn’t mean we are all the same,” he said.
“For example my puppies are born in an air-conditioned room.
“In Victoria you can’t keep more than 10 bitches and you need to get a special permit from the Victorian Agriculture Minister, we have the toughest restrictions in the world.”
He believes changes need to be made to stop backyard breeders, but pinching the registered farms makes things harder.
“I know of stay-at-home mums buying dogs and breeding them in a tiny flat, and charging cheap prices,” he said.
“That is hard for professional breeders like me.”
In the wake of the pandemic and growing puppy sales, politicians and activists came together recently on Dogs in Politics Day to help spread the adopt don’t shop message and help dogs find loving homes.
The RSPCA is a good place to adopt a dog but contributions from NSW are just 6 per cent which is the lowest donation in Australia.
Keiran Watson from the RSPCA wants the community to think about where they buy their puppies from.
“With the advent of internet sales, puppy farms are a growing national problem,” he said.
“RSPCA Inspectors have rescued dogs from puppy farms where hundreds of breeding females have been kept in cages in appalling conditions.”
There are estimated to be hundreds of farms, but it’s very difficult to track.
There are situations where people say the farm is actually a ‘boarding facility’, others are not registered with council (which is illegal), and likely pushes the number up even further.
Mark Slater from The Animal Welfare League NSW says without legislation activist groups remain powerless, keeping puppy farms thriving, and with no restrictions on breeding – these farms keep producing puppies.
“Desexing should be mandatory if you’re not a registered and approved breeder because that’s where the problem lies,” Mr Slater said.
Changing legislation would give groups straightforward access to the properties they believe are puppy farms.
“We work with NSW farmers who talk to us about regional areas and where the potential hotspots are,” Mr Slater said.
There is a mentality in Australia where people don’t get their dogs desexed and then have a litter – but they are not a breeder,” he said.
“The best interest of the animal is not being served in that.
“It’s just an economic activity.”