'Designer dogs' and animal abuse inquiry launched after pet ownership soared during pandemic

MPs have launched an inquiry into "designer dogs" and other types of animal abuse following an increased demand for pets during the pandemic.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee will look into a variety of abuses committed against pets and is calling for experts to submit written evidence now.

Puppy farms - high volume dog breeding facilities - that sometimes breed "designer dogs" and the importation of heavily pregnant bitches and cats are of great concern, the cross-party committee said.

Designer dogs see two purebred dogs purposefully bred to select the "best" characteristics of each dog, which could include looks. Examples are cockapoos, considered one of the original designer breeds, and puggles - a beagle and pug mix.

But some puppy farms, which are illegal, have been claiming to breed these sought-after dogs when they are actually just mutts, many with behavioural problems and genetic illnesses.

As people had more time to look after pets during the COVID-19 lockdowns, there was a well-documented increase in demand, especially for dogs.

But the committee said evidence suggests these cruel practices increased in that time as unscrupulous breeders tried to take advantage of the situation.

There are added concerns now the pandemic has receded, including about people who bought pets now having less time to look after them.

The cost of living crisis has also seen people no longer being able to afford to care for their pets so are giving them away, or abandoning them and leaving them to charities.

This has led to increased pressure on vets and pet charities, so the inquiry will look into what can be done to support their work and will ask how the government can end cruel practices and improve pet welfare.

The committee will also look at mutilation, such as ear cropping of dogs, which is illegal but still happens in the UK and in pets bought from overseas, and de-clawing of cats, which remains legal.

They will also examine whether the current penalties, and probability of prosecution, for animal abuse act as a sufficient deterrent.

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Sir Robert Goodwill, Tory chair of the committee, said: "Having previously called Defra to account on the issue of pet smuggling, we already have evidence that abuse of animals for the pet trade is taking place.

"The committee intends to get to the root of what is going on and hear how best to improve pet welfare and stamp out bad practice.

"Unregulated back-yard breeding of 'designer dogs', not to mention cruel practices such as the declawing of cats for cosmetic purposes, should not take place anywhere - let alone in our country, which is known as a nation of animal lovers."