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THE shadow boxing of backbench TDs purporting to represent “rural Ireland” is gathering pace as the Government seeks to pass the puppy farming bill.
This will enforce an annual fee of €400 on breeders owning six or more bitches of breeding age. Local authority vets will be regulated to inspect licensed dog breeding premises annually or as warranted.
Bitches will be restricted to three litters every two years. All pups will be microchipped by law, but there are indications greyhound premises will achieve an exemption. This would be bad news as vets and others in the animal industry know the greyhound sector has a significant over-production problem. The effect of traceability, regulation and a registration cost would mean a reduction of puppy numbers at the cheaper end of the market, which is where overcrowding and animal welfare issues are most likely to arise.
It is convenient for Fianna Fáil rural TDs to characterise animal welfare bills as part of a Green agenda. In fact this Dog Breeding Bill was put together in 2006 by Dick Roche in the previous Fianna Fáil government working with the ISPCA, Veterinary Ireland and the Department of Agriculture.
My own veterinary profession wants puppy farms reduced in number and size and subject to inspection. The desired end product will then be a healthy, well socialised pet with fewer genetic defects. A reduction of puppy numbers will be an important side effect of regulation in a country where more than 10,000 unwanted dogs are euthanased in local authority pounds each year.
Mattie McGrath reckons the Greens want to ban “the pussy cat from catching the mouse”. He is the one playing cat-and-mouse as a game of party politics. The real underlying issues are discontent with the Taoiseach’s appalling retreat over the past two years into morose, pedestrian communications and FF members’ hunger for a clear out and reform of party culture.
The loudest opponents of the dog breeding bill are hunt kennels and the greyhound fraternity. Hunt kennels are lossmaking and rely on membership subscriptions. Traditionally, kennels provided farmers with an essential service of fallen stock disposal. This source of revenue has now declined prompting hunts to seek exemption from the costs which are central to this bill.
But microchipping can be done as cheaply as tattoing. If this bill allows exemptions then we may as well admit loopholes.
Greyhound racing is seen as the poor relation of horse racing. As such it is heavily subsidised by government and no doubt this group will plead the poor mouth in the Oireachtas this week. However, any insider will tell you the breeding and sale of greyhounds remains a thriving cash-based trade.
Declared revenues within this industry are only the tip of the iceberg as pups travel between Britain and Ireland on pound note transactions. Bord na gGon has its PR people, but it is notable there is an absence of greyhound trainers or breeders sticking their heads up to plead penury. This sector may achieve its exemption but is in fact best able to pay the modest levies proposed. The greyhound racing industry would benefit most from local authority regulation for a number of reasons.
There are too few outlets for unwanted greyhounds which have been retired or are simply too slow. The best remedy for oversupply is to discourage breeding from poorer quality bitches by imposing a cost and an inconvenience.
I and many of my colleagues hope this bill is passed in its entirety. Our current laissez faire animal legislation is anachronistic. In common with the now outlawed spectacle of riders on horseback following dogs in pursuit of farmed deer across suburbia I believe in a few years we will marvel how anyone who saw fit was allowed to breed and sell dogs without regulation or licence.
Kildare Vet Surgery
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