Stand Against Puppy Farms

Today Abigail showed support for the Bill to tighten restrictions on puppy farms in NSW, and spoke on the cruelty inflicted upon so many dogs across the state.

Abigail said: 

On behalf of The Greens, I speak in support of the Companion Animals Amendment (Puppy Farms) Bill 2021. I note that earlier today a select committee was established to inquire into and report on puppy farming, and I look forward to participating in that important inquiry as a member of the committee. With Victoria having introduced new laws to crack down on puppy farming in 2017, the landscape in New South Wales has changed since the 2015 joint committee inquiry into puppy farming. The time has come to revisit how we can end this cruel industry. I thank the Hon. Emma Hurst for putting puppy farms back on the agenda with the bill and the Hon. Mick Veitch for initiating the inquiry. I also recognise the work of so many individuals and organisations in raising the plight of companion animals bred and held captive in intensive farming. Their role in keeping the victims of puppy farms in the public consciousness cannot be overstated.

In January 2015 a notorious Northern Tablelands puppy farm was inspected by the RSPCA after whistleblowers tipped it off to the appalling conditions and horrific abuse experienced by the hundreds of dogs and puppies at the farm. With no permits ever sought from the local council, the farm was housing dogs in tin sheds for shelter with inadequate access to water, with metre-high piles of faeces and rotting corpses of dogs littering the property. But while breaches of the code of practice were found, warnings were issued by the RSPCA and fines were eventually issued by the local council, there were no real consequences for the operator and the fines were whittled down to a miniscule amount. Even after that investigation and despite the Coalition Government vowing to close that puppy factory down, Gwydir Shire Council intended to approve the operator's planning proposal, which was designed to legalise what had until then been an illegal operation. After a huge public outcry, the council ultimately refused the development application [DA]. On a successful appeal by the operator through the Land and Environment Court, the puppy farm was able to obtain the permits it needed to continue operating.

In September 2020 the same puppy farm was again inspected after whistleblowers reported the devastating death of Strawberry, a pregnant 10‑month‑old boxer who was denied veterinary care for four days after birthing complications that left her puppies rotting inside her. Eight weeks after Strawberry died, her two surviving puppies were advertised for sale in a pet shop in Western Australia. Strawberry was still a puppy when she suffered an agonising death—just a piece of machinery that broke down while churning out the so-called "commercial product" of the puppy farmers responsible for her death. Her story is devastating, but it is all the worse because in her death she has come to represent the literally uncountable number of dogs that have lived and died for the profits of the puppy industry or that are still hidden away and hoping to be rescued.

When it comes to the suffering and deaths of those puppies and dogs, the legal or illegal status of many of the abhorrent facilities can often be a moot point. In the adjoining Glen Innes council, another industrialised dog‑breeding facility that had been operating illegally was allowed to begin operating legally after its illegal operation was caught out. The farm of 50 breeding dogs, which inquiries by Animal Liberation confirmed was being run by a former operator of the Gwydir shire puppy farm at which Strawberry went on to die, was operating without council consent or the required permit until complaints from neighbours alerted the council to it. Despite being convicted in local court for their illegal operations in Gwydir Shire, the operator's development application to legalise the Glen Innes operation after it was found out was approved by council. That DA was not publicly notified and as there was no public exhibition, the public had no opportunity to lodge objections. Those are just two related examples in the agriculture Minister's electorate, only a tiny fraction of the puppy farms that could be operating across the State, but they are responsible for the suffering of hundreds of individual dogs.

It is important to remember that even when a puppy farm is investigated by the authorities, not all animals are rescued. Often the abuse, neglect or suffering is not deemed extreme enough under the law to justify a seizure, so the animals remain captive victims of forced breeding in conditions that may not meet an out‑of‑date threshold for cruelty but certainly do not provide the dignity or quality of life that those sentient beings deserve. New South Wales councils are endeavouring to respond to strong public opposition to commercial dog and cat breeding and puppy factories. They continue to be hampered by weak legislation and, notably, new DAs. In the same space, some New South Wales councils have assessed and approved other puppy factories without any public exhibition or consultation at all. The system and related planning instruments are all in a state of shambles, full of inconsistencies and loopholes.

Members who know me will know that my two dogs, Maya and Peso, are my world. I have spoken about them before and been teased for my ridiculous adoration of them, but they are an irreplaceable part of my family. It is because my dogs mean so much to me that I stand so strongly against puppy farms. Dogs are sentient beings with their own unique thoughts and feelings, interests and fears, personalities and friendships. They make such wonderful companions to us because they are their own individuals, who each enrich their humans' lives in their own unique ways. Like people, each dog has individual value and a unique contribution to make. My dogs are not interchangeable with each other, and they do not exist simply to enrich my life. They are their own beings. The idea of sacrificing the welfare, wellbeing and quality of life of one unique and sentient individual for another to live a happy life is abhorrent, and yet we trade in those lives because one person's desire for animal companionship is an opportunity for another person to profit.

Strawberry and so many other dogs like her have lived lives hardly worth living so that their children can be sold for a profit, albeit to a happy home. People who shop for dogs are most often well intentioned, driven by a connection to a particular breed, a desire to see their companion grow up from puppy or just an ignorance of the circumstances in which their new pet came into the world. Puppy farms profit from the desire of uninformed people to have an animal in their lives to love and care for. No pet owner who has bought a puppy bred in those horrific conditions would be okay with their money supporting such unethical businesses if they knew the conditions that their pets' parents are kept in. Businesses making a living from actual lives nonetheless continue to turn a profit, with the cost borne by the many dogs who go their whole lives without the affection, enrichment or comfort that their children will see.

I recently spoke with a pedigree dog breeder about reforming the pet industry. She told me that breeders love their dogs. It is in their best interest to love them and treat them well because people who buy dogs from breeders expect that their pet will live a long and healthy life, and breeders would not be able to sustain their business if the "quality of their product" was so poor that it had to be "returned". Puppy farms are just one symptom of the way in which animals suffer when we allow profit‑driven commodification and commercialisation to dictate everything we do.

Everywhere that a bottom line motivates our interactions with animals, they suffer. The egg production industry crams hens into cages and barns as tightly as possible because it is cheaper to do so. Because the gambling industry makes a killing from bets placed on horse and greyhound racing, hundreds of horses and greyhounds are raced to death every year or discarded once they are no longer useful. Council pounds do not have enough money to prioritise unprofitable rehoming services, leaving lost and abandoned animals languishing in run‑down facilities that do not have the money to install air conditioning, let alone the staff to ensure that the animals receive the enrichment that they deserve.

There are feasible alternatives to conducting medical research on animals. But because the financial cost to governments and private research facilities is too high to put the work into transitioning to cruelty‑free research, animals continue to be killed or experimented on. We could end mulesing in five years if sheep farmers prioritised selectively breeding out the need to do it, but they do not because it would temporarily increase their operating costs. There is a profit to be made from the live export of cattle and other farmed animals, so we send them on weeks‑long journeys in tightly packed, unsanitary and overheating ships.

Puppy farmers exploit the public's desire for cute pets and take advantage of their ignorance about the conditions into which they come into the world because it makes them a profit. Both the major parties fail to do enough about any of those issues, partly because of donors that make their profits from all of those industries and partly because meaningful action to address injustice is rarely beneficial to a budget bottom line. While The Greens have been campaigning for decades for an end to the intensive breeding of companion animals and look forward to the major parties joining us in this fight, we do not hold our breath.

Companion animal breeders and pet shops that sell their "products" and the industry bodies that represent them have said that taking the action we need to end puppy farming will shut down the dog breeding industry. They say that this is all about ending companion animals, that there will be no animals to buy and no pets in our lives. To them I say: Take a look around. Take a look at the number of dogs and cats in shelters needing homes. Take a look at the euthanasia rates of healthy animals in our pounds. For every multithousand-dollar puppy they sell there are dozens of dogs in pounds, shelters and rescues, helplessly waiting for the day that they are adopted or just killed. There is no shortage of unique, sentient individuals hoping for a forever home.

Finally, industries that do more harm than good do not have a place in our society. The people who work in and make a living from those industries deserve comprehensive government-provided support to transition out of them, but industries that exist only to make a profit, and not because they are a net good, must be shut down. Whether it is greyhound racing or puppy farms, the real cost to people, to the planet and to sentient beings is too high to allow them to continue. I commend the bill to the House.

 

The full debate can be found in Hansard, here.

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