COUNCILLORS in Fife have welcomed new legislation designed to curb the "rapid growth" in illegal dog and puppy sales.

Local agencies have expressed concern about the escalating number of breeders springing up in various locations, particularly during the pandemic, and the cost of the animals which has soared in the last 18 months – often costing thousands of pounds for both pedigree and cross breeds. 

Illegal puppy farming is estimated to be worth £13 million in Scotland alone, and the SSPCA say puppies can often be treated like a commodity, bred in large numbers with little regard for animal welfare.

Nigel Kerr, head of protective services at Fife Council, told councillors that the increase in dog-breeding during the pandemic had been "driven by public demand".

He added: "There has therefore been an increase in breeders, both legitimate and rogue, which has been a significant challenge for local authorities and agencies in terms of regulating those activities."

To tackle the problem, the council is backing new licensing regulations which will see more stringent licences issued for breeders following risk assessments, with those licences extended to cat- and rabbit-breeders, animal rehoming and animal welfare premises for the first time.

Dog breeders who have more than three litters in a year will also need licences – down from four litters previously. 

Councillor Ross Vettraino, convener of the environment and protective services sub-committee, said: “The changes support good breeders who go well above the minimum standards to care for, and breed, their animals.  

“The new rules will also help manage new breeders who are springing up to meet the spike in demand for dogs and puppies during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Encouraged by the huge prices that dogs and particularly puppies are commanding, illegal puppy-farming is big business across the UK. 

“This legislation will help regulate and scrutinise the conditions that these animals are being kept in.”

Cllr Vettraino also urged people looking to get a new puppy to use the SSPCA’s Assured Puppy Breeding Scheme which highlights trusted sellers.

SSPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn said: “We want to encourage the public to buy puppies that are healthy and have grown up with their siblings and parents in a clean and safe environment.  

“We always encourage people to rehome animals but we know that the public demand for puppies grows at a much faster rate than what is legally available. This means people often turn to buying their pet online. 

“Unfortunately, this has led to a rapid growth in the illegal puppy trade and dogs are often kept in horrendous conditions with puppies removed from their mothers far too young.

“They are rarely vaccinated or health-screened and often unsocialised, all of which commonly lead to medical and behavioural problems.”