I wonder how many councillors are aware of the Breeding & Sale of Dogs (Welfare Act 1999) giving local authorities responsibility to licence and inspect dog breeding establishments within their jurisdiction?

I’ve never owned a dog, although I’ve always wanted one, but my working lifestyle wouldn’t be fair on a pet which demands a lot of attention; instead, I have a couple of rescue cats, which happily enjoy bed and board on their own terms!

However, in the last year several of my friends have taken the leap into dog ownership, either replacing a much loved pet, or to fulfil a lifelong ambition in retirement. Three out of four used the internet, collecting their new family member from various roadside cafes across the country: two Labradors, a bison frisse, and a poodle mix. One of the Labradors turned out not to be pure bred, but fit, the other had hip dysplacia (costing £3,000 to put right with ongoing veterinary bills and he’s barely 18 months old).

Of the other two, one quickly ran up a £4,000 vet’s bill, the maximum covered by its pet insurance, and will be on steroids for the rest of its life because its immune system is non-existent. Now six months old and a dear little thing, it spent several weeks at Newmarket’s world-famous animal hospital before being diagnosed and has so far cost £10,000 to save; far from wealthy, its owner had a fund raiser for her 50th birthday. The fourth is another puppy farm victim, running up enormous vet’s bills for a variety of ailments which seem incapable of cure, leaving it unable to walk far.

According to the Kennel Club, these cases are becoming more commonplace. 53 per cent of puppy purchasers have no idea of the conditions in which their puppy was reared, nor where, since they are usually sold via a third party (the internet or pet shops) instead of potential owners choosing from a litter at home with mum, and having the chance to talk to the breeder.

It is apparently common for puppies to be taken from their mothers too early, which apparently contributes to future health and behavioural problems, and for bitches to have more litters than recommended for their health. Such irresponsible breeders don’t take the usual precautions of basic immunisation and worming, nor are they concerned about in-breeding – which contribute to a greater likelihood of puppies suffering from preventable infections, diseases, and inherited conditions. All of which shorten life, and making it a very expensive one for their owners.

The Kennel Club says there is a lack of expertise in local authorities, resulting in poor enforcement, yet it has an Assured Breeder scheme, which, it suggests, should be mandatory. It also suggests that if local authorities liaised with them, the club could help with training for consistent and effective enforcement. Most importantly, if data were shared with the Kennel Club, its Approved Breeder scheme inspectors could undertake inspections for local authorities, the website states.

Puppy farms not only cause huge suffering to the dogs, but also puppies’ owners, who quickly become attached to their new pets and are distressed (as well as financially challenged) by the serious health issues which can accrue.

It’s worth remembering that having a pet can be a life-saver for some people; they are good company, and help the lonely to meet others on their daily walks which, in turn, benefit their own health.

Pet insurance companies must also be increasingly concerned at the scale of this growing problem and the rising cost of treatment; inevitably, premiums will be affected, perhaps resulting in a lack of affordability for many pet owners, merely adding to the pressures.

So, wouldn’t it make sense for local authorities – perhaps through the LGA – to work with both the Kennel Club and the insurance industry, as well as the RSPCA and the Royal Veterinary College, to come up with a joint strategy and a concerted campaign to stamp out the worst of these bad practices?

Targeting resources would be to everyone’s benefit: raising standards, reducing costs of ownership, and – most importantly – preventing unnecessary suffering for all concerned.