Animal Welfare

Jim Shannon Excerpts
Monday 7th June 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I certainly will do that, Mr Mundell; thank you for that clarification.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) and everyone else who has spoken. I thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for presenting the case.

My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), who has just left the Chamber, referred to the Assisi Animal Sanctuary, where my wife has been a dedicated volunteer for many years; indeed, many of the animals in our own home are animals that have been rescued. They now rule the roost.

My comments today will largely focus on the puppy issue. The facts are clear—there has been an absolutely massive increase in demand for puppies during the pandemic. People who are spending more time at home have realised that a wee dog may be something that can complete their family; that is lovely and it should be the case. However, my wife has highlighted to me that often after peaks of demand such as this one there will be a devastating peak of abandoned dogs, when owners realise the huge responsibility that comes with a cute little puppy, as the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) has said.

Dogs are a lot of work. In my opinion, as someone who has had dogs all his life, they are worth every second. The fact is that dogs will always love their owner and will always wag their tail. The springer spaniel that we have—Autumn—probably came from a home where it was abused. It was certainly nervous and unsure. Now, it is confident; it is now my hunting dog and also my guard dog.

I first realised the scale of the problem when one of my staff members told me that she had been approached during lockdown while she was out on a walk with a two-year-old Dachshund by a man who offered to buy her dog. She laughed it off by saying that she would rather sell her husband before she would sell her dog—there is a thought for us. My goodness me, that was not a nice thing to say and it was not my wife who said it. Perhaps my wife did not hear—there we are.

Here is the story. My staff member was met with a stern expression and the man saying, “I will give you £1,000. I can’t source Dachshunds anywhere.” She had paid £550 for the dog to a local lady who had invited her into her home. When she saw the dog’s mum and dad, and the papers, she was happy that all was well; that is the way it should be done. This type of dog is now listed as costing over £2,000, so it is little wonder that she was approached like that. We are now seeing people who are capitalising on people’s isolation and loneliness, and when there is a demand the unscrupulous will do whatever it takes to try and meet it.

Therefore, despite Lucy’s law, the unscrupulous are exploiting the loopholes in order to exploit animals and make a quick buck. The problem is that these animals are not checked against rigorous standards and the results can be dire. There can be health risks for both pups and unsuspecting new owners; families in the UK could get infectious diseases. We must be aware of them: parvovirus; e-coli; brucellosis; parasitic infestations of ticks; tapeworms; rabies; and other problems that are endemic. Those are diseases that we cannot ignore. These are serious issues. Indeed, I read an article recently that outlined an increasing fear of diseases that cross the human-animal divide. In some cases, those diseases have an impact upon human beings as well.

At present, puppies must be at least 15 weeks old to enter the UK legally. It is virtually impossible to establish the age of a 15-week-old puppy accurately by its teeth or appearance alone. Documents, including certification and animal passports, are commonly forged and microchip numbers can be falsified, thus compromising both traceability and accountability.

I will finish with this point. The suggestion has been made that the import age must be raised to six months. I understand that some people may be less inclined to get a dog that is older and therefore harder to train. At the same time, I have had many older dogs over the years, so I can testify that a gentle hand and love can teach any old dog the basics. Six months may affect the cuteness factor of a dog that is being bought, but it certainly will not affect its training.

In conclusion, I will ask the Minister a question. The Republic of Ireland is seen as a place where puppy farming can happen, and dogs can be trafficked from the Republic into the UK, and vice versa. What discussions has the Minister had with Ministers in the Republic of Ireland to ensure that laws are used right across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland so that that does not happen? Loopholes exist. We must work to close them as soon as possible and to prevent the abuse of this system, which translates into the abuse of animals and can pose a danger to families throughout this UK. I think that was just about four minutes.

David Mundell Portrait David Mundell (in the Chair)
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Excellent; thank you very much, Mr Shannon. I will now call Dr Lisa Cameron, followed by Luke Pollard and the Minister. If they could each stick to speaking for about nine minutes, that will allow Mr Colburn some moments to conclude the debate.