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Toughen up laws to tackle dog crisis, say lawyers
Pic: Wikipedia Commons

03 May 2024 / legislation Print

Toughen up laws to tackle dog crisis, say lawyers

A report by lawyers at Fieldfisher has recommended changes to legislation on dog-breeding that they say would “drastically improve” practices in Ireland.

Describing Ireland’s current regulatory framework as “poor”, the authors say that the country is in the middle of a “dog crisis”.

The authors – Hannah Unger (associate), Rory Ferguson (director) and Dearbhla Walsh (solicitor) – prepared the report on a pro bono basis, after a review of domestic and international legislation.

The lawyers recommend toughening current legislation, better regulation of canine fertility, and an independent regulator.

More dogs rescued

The report cites figures for 2022 from the Department of Rural and Community Development that showed that 7,352 dogs entered Irish pounds – a 77% increase from 2021.
In addition, 340 dogs were euthanised in Irish pounds – twice as many as 2021.
The number of dogs rescued by the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA) also rose by 47% last year, compared with 2022.

There are currently three groups of dog breeders:

  • Operators of dog breeding establishments (DBEs), who have six or more female dogs capable of breeding on their premises (known as 'puppy farms’ or ‘puppy factories'),
  • Registered sellers, who sell or supply six or more pet animals in a calendar year but have five or fewer breeding bitches on their premises, and
  • Private individuals who sell or supply five or fewer dogs in a single calendar year.

Welfare concerns

The report states that the current framework has created a multi-million-euro industry (estimated to be worth around €187 million) and has also resulted in Ireland becoming a huge exporter of puppies to more tightly regulated countries.

The Fieldfisher lawyers believe that, aside from welfare concerns, the industry presents a range of other issues, such as:

  • Tax avoidance, given the high-level of cash transactions,
  • Environmental concerns, due to the high-level of waste produced by hundreds of dogs on site,
  • The spread of diseases, and
  • Fraudulent practices, such as claiming that puppies were bred in a family home when they were bred in a puppy factory.

Changes to legislation

The report calls for the establishment of an independent regulator for the sector, and the consolidation of policymaking on the issue into one Government department.

It urges changes to the Dog Breeding Establishments Act 2010 to bring more breeders under its remit, and improvements to and greater enforcement of the Microchipping of Dogs Regulations 2015.

Other proposals include:

  • A “more appropriate” staff-to-dog ratio,
  • A change in the age of breeding bitches,
  • The introduction of a cap on breeding bitches on site,
  • A hotline to tackle what the report describes as “unscrupulous ‘back-yard’ breeders”
  • Stricter, mandatory guidelines on issues such as animal housing, hygiene, exercise, registration, and animal care,
  • More inspections, and the publication of registers and inspection reports, and
  • A ban on surgical insemination and tight regulation of canine fertility.

The authors say that all the reforms detailed are achievable, many in the short-term, but they also recognise that some may take several years to implement.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland