Jul 05

Pet industry’s top dogs overlooked puppy factory cruelty complaints

A South Australian RSPCA puppy factory in Adelaide Hills, which was found to be selling dogs to a pet store backed by the industry’s peak body PIAA. Photo: Supplied: Oscar’s Law Dogs from the Adelaide puppy factory were funnelled to pet stores. Photo: [email protected]苏州美甲美睫培训学校419论坛

Scenes of horror: More than 175 dogs were removed from the Adelaide Hills puppy factory by the RSPCA. Photo: supplied: Oscar’s Law

Oscar’s Law founder Debra Tranter with five-year-old Oscar, who she rescued from a puppy farm. Photo: Penny Stephens PKS

Australia’s pet industry peak body has been rocked by allegations that two successive chief executives overlooked advice relating to its retail stores selling puppies from inhumane breeding factories.

The Pet Industry Association of Australia (PIAA) provides a “policy guarantee” to consumers that “all dogs” purchased from its affiliated stores are “not the product of puppy farms.”

However, last week, a Fairfax Media investigation traced hundreds of designer puppies sold in one of its Western Australia pet shops to a NSW breeding facility, more than 4000 kilometres away, which had surrendered 45 dogs to the RSPCA and been found guilty of a string of breaches to the Animal Welfare Code of Practice. It is also at the centre of a separate RSPCA probe relating to sick animals being sold in stores.

Amid public outcry, and a further 42 dogs being removed from the Uralla site by the RSPCA in recent days, the PIAA has announced that the shop at the centre of the scandal, Mount Lawley Pets and Puppies in Perth, has now had its membership “terminated”.

But as it moved to reassure the public of its “zero tolerance” stance towards puppy farms, Fairfax Media received correspondence that shows complaints, dating back two years, were lodged with consecutive CEO’s, about retail links to cruelty sites. In both cases, there was no response.

In the wake of these revelations, PIAA is now staring at a possible legal challenge over its assurances to the public after a national league of barristers confirmed it had provided “confidential advice” on the matter. The Barristers Animal Welfare Panel is known to have a strong relationship with the ACCC, having persuaded it to initiate the famous 2013 “free to roam” legal case in which Australia’s largest poultry producers that supply Steggles branded chickens – Baiada Poultry and Bartter Enterprises – were successfully prosecuted in the Federal Court for making “false, misleading and deceptive claims”. While the panel’s director Graeme McEwen was coy about the PIAA case, he asked: “How does one offer a guarantee unless you have taken steps to check and monitor whether members conform with guidelines. To offer a guarantee idly is to provide false hope to a customer.”

On June 10, 2013, the RSPCA received a tip off from animal welfare group Oscar’s Law about an Adelaide Hills puppy factory  –one of the worst breeding facilities uncovered in Australia. It took five days to remove 176 dogs from the squalid setting, many of which were pregnant.

The RSPCA’s South Australian CEO Tim Vasudeva confirmed that paperwork connected the site with two PIAA accredited pet stores, including the Perth shop exposed in last week’s Fairfax Media expose.

As rescue groups rallied with the local community to save the animals, Oscar’s Law founder Debra Tranter contacted the PIAA’s then CEO, Roger Perkins, to inform him of the developments – and links to PIAA retail members.

In an email dated June 18, 2013, she thanked him for the opportunity to meet in Melbourne a fortnight previously, then advised: “Very disturbing that the recent Strathalbyn puppy factory was supplying PIAA pet shops. This really is consumer fraud and PIAA need to make stand. PIAA clearly cannot control where these puppies are coming from.”

Mr Perkins said last week: “We corresponded a lot but I do not recall ever receiving an email from Debra about that.” When the email was read back to him, he said: “I’m sure she sent it now you said it – but I have no recollection of that.”

Fast forward to February this year and when a Perth mother telephoned acting CEO Bob Croucher and vented her concerns about ‘Torro’, the $2300 puppy that her family had to euthanise due to illness, 12 days after purchasing it from one of its accredited stores, he reportedly advised her it was not a PIAA issue – because the shop was not a member. In a resulting email to PIAA, dated February 11, she thanked him for his assistance and “confirmation that the business…is not a current member of your association (PIAA).”

She added: “It would be greatly appreciated if you could confirm this information in writing. I look forward to your reply.” She never heard from Mr Croucher again.

When Fairfax Media approached Mr Croucher for comment last week, PIAA responded with confirmation that his role as Acting CEO was almost over and the board would therefore “prefer he is not the spokesperson for the organisation at this time.” It added new CEO, Mark Fraser, would be “reviewing” the matter when he starts next week.

On Ben Fordham’s 2GB radio show in May, Mr Croucher said: “I can guarantee you PIAA shops do not buy from puppy farm factories.” However, during the same interview, he acknowledged some of those same shops use third party “brokers” to source puppy stock on their behalf.

The RSPCA’s Mr Vasudeva said: “From our perspective, he knows there are no mechanisms in place, at PIAA, to allow him to actually make that guarantee. And yet he still makes it.” Of using brokers, he asked: “How can you possibly provide promises to the public when even your own stores can’t be sure where these dogs are flowing from?”

On Thursday, the Victorian government announced tough new record keeping requirements that stop pet shops from using illegal breeders. The NSW government is currently holding a parliamentary inquiry into puppy farming – which remains legal in the state.

PIAA director John Grima said: “We make best endeavours to ensure our members adhere to the commitments we make to customers about the origins of their puppies. We agree…more needs to be done to stop puppy farming – and we want to work with government to achieve that objective, including a role for properly accredited pet store operators.”

Mr Grima described pet shops as more “transparent” than online sellers who operate “out of public view.”

Ms Tranter said: “We’re witnessing the last, desperate gasps of a dying industry. With the exception of PIAA, virtually everyone is calling for a ban on puppies sold in retail stores.”

Animals Australia agreed, labelling pet shops “inappropriate environments for young, vulnerable animals”. Factories in focus: A Timeline.

* May 3: Fairfax Media and Oscar’s Law investigation traces puppies for sale online to a cruel breeding factory in Inverell which under NSW law, operates legally.

* May 4: Internal RSPCA vet report chronicles the cruelty being repeated in puppy factories across NSW.

* May 10: Pressure mounts on state government to introduce tougher animal cruelty laws as Labor and the Greens foreshadow their own bills to crack down on puppy farms.

* May 13: Premier Mike Baird calls for a parliamentary inquiry into puppy farms and commercial breeding industry.

* June 28: Through the premature death of a $2300 puppy, Fairfax Media reveals the hidden story of how hundreds of dogs were being transported 4000 kilometres between a NSW puppy factory and Perth pet shop. The store guaranteed consumers its animals were sourced from ‘responsible’ breeders.

* July 2: Victorian government points to the Perth pet shop expose in announcing tighter new regulations that stop pet stores from using illegal breeders.

* July 4: Peak pet industry body, PIAA, accused of overlooking cruelty complaints while providing false guarantees to consumers about where pet shop puppies are sourced.

August 31: NSW Inquiry reports back to Parliament.

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