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Fox Facts

Having been a Member of the National Assembly for Wales since 1999 and Chair of the Assembly All Party Animal Welfare Group since it’s inception in 2000, I have taken a lead on issues of animal welfare in the Assembly. This year, I am working on two particular issues – “puppy farms” and “badgers”.

Turning firstly to puppy farms, at the outset I would like to say that there are obviously reputable licensed dog breeders across Wales who take their responsibilities seriously and care for their dogs. It is important that we make the distinction between responsible breeders and those who seek only financial gain. Good breeders will take into consideration breed-specific health problems, genetic screening, the dog’s age as well as temperament before breeding. In contrast, dogs bred in these “puppy farms” are bred purely for profit, with little regard to animal welfare.

A puppy farmer is an intensive volume breeder who has little regard for the basic needs and care of the dogs concerned, and who seeks to make a profit from the sale of puppies. The topic of puppy farms has been in the news for many years and the programme Rogue Traders, showed dogs locked in cramped cages, with no bedding and were constantly crying and whimpering.

The RSPCA last year went undercover to a puppy farm to investigate conditions there. They purchased six puppies, two of which they later found out had potentially life threatening illnesses. One of these, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel cross was diagnosed with pneumonia and, despite constant care, died. There have also been cases documented in which families have bought dogs from puppy farms only to find out that they carried diseases which were passed on to other family pets, who in some cases also died.

The purpose of these farms is to make money and as such, many breeders will cut as many costs as possible. Despite it being illegal for a bitch to give birth to more than six litters in a lifetime and only once a year, puppy farmers will keep a number of female dogs who are used solely for breeding and their lives are a constant cycle of pregnancy and birth. Puppies are taken from them far too early and the mother dogs will be made pregnant again almost immediately. This puts a vast physical strain on them and when they are worn out and no longer able to breed they are usually killed.

When puppies are sold, they are often sent by van to ‘dealers’ in towns and cities, many are severely traumatised by the journeys and some do not make it alive. The dealers then place adverts in newspapers and magazines, often masquerading as breeders. Some breeders will sell their puppies from the back of a van or at a motorway service station. The public is unaware that this is how some puppy farmers operate and will not ask to see the puppy with its mother or the relevant certificates.

Many puppies from puppy farms are put on sale in pet shops and we should do all we can to urge people to stay away from pet shops when buying a puppy, as it is likely to have originated from a puppy farm. Good breeders would never sell their puppies via a pet shop.

If all breeders were to adhere to the law, disreputable puppy farms would not exist and dogs would be properly cared for. However, as we have seen, dogs continue to be mistreated at the hands of so-called breeders looking to make a quick buck. If some puppy farm owners are happy to ignore the current reasonable regulations, it is unlikely that new legislation would suffice in closing them down as illegal breeders are obviously adept at passing under the radar of detection.

There are therefore two ways in which we can improve the situation. The first is to find the puppy farms, examine the conditions the dogs are held in and close them down if necessary; the other is to ensure that the public is informed of the methods of puppy farms so that the demand is cut off at source. The simple message to those buying a puppy is to demand to see the puppy with its mother in its home environment and never to buy a puppy from the back of a van in the service stations.

By taking these practical steps and encouraging people to find out exactly where their dog comes from, it would become difficult for disreputable puppy farms to make a profit and they would be forced out of business. I believe this is the most effective means of preventing the cruelty to puppies and rewarding good breeders who take their responsibility seriously. We need to act now to bring an end this unnecessary suffering.

The second issue is the decision made by Elin Jones, the Plaid Cymru Minister for Rural Affairs in the Labour-Plaid coalition, to go ahead with a badger cull in Wales. Over the next four years, if she has her way, countless badgers will be killed in the name of eradicating bovine TB. This decision has been reached despite the lack of any convincing evidence that a badger cull will have any meaningful effect on the number of cattle who contract bovine TB.

Badgers are a protected species in Wales and this cull will decimate badger numbers across the country. Wales stands alone on this and, as the Minister admitted when announcing her decision to the chamber, there is no consensus amongst experts as to the effectiveness of a cull, but she’s planning to go ahead with it anyway.

The badger cull which was carried out in Ireland between 1997 and 2002 proved ineffective and cost the lives of thousands of healthy badgers and injured thousands more. It is apparent that the Minister has ignored the disastrous cull on the other side of the Irish Sea and instead is following advice based on mixed opinions. This simply cannot be justified and I just find the whole situation very distressing.

Countless animals will be killed and injured as a result of the two issues outlined above. I will continue to try and stop this cull, working within the law, alongside the Badger Trust, the RSPCA and a group of back-bench Assembly Members.
TB consultation starts in Wales

A THREE-month consultation on the proposed Tuberculosis Eradication (Wales) Order 2009 under the Animal Health Act 1It says TB in cattle is an infectious and debilitating disease which has increased dramatically since 1999 and last year more than 12,000 cattle in Wales were slaughtered because of the disease.

It also forecasts that by 2014 taxpayers could be paying more than £80 million to farmers in compensation if the disease continues to escalate at the current rate. The Welsh Assembly Government says it has set up a comprehensive programme to eradicate bovine TB and that since the programme was established new initiatives had been introduced, including more stringent measures aimed at tackling the spread of the disease by cattle. Rural Affairs Minister, Elin Jones, had announced last month that, in her view and on the basis of evidence available, a cull of badgers in an Intensive Action Pilot Area was necessary to begin to address the reservoir of TB that exists in wildlife. It would take place in one area, alongside additional measures to tackle the disease in cattle She had also announced that the Welsh Assembly Government would assume responsibility for managing a badger cull. Although it would be possible to licence farmers or other individuals to undertake this work under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, the Assembly Government wanted to co-ordinate it, and so deliver a cull.

But in order to allow WAG to manage a cull it needed the powers to do so – and why secondary legislation under the Animal Health Act 1981 is needed.

The 12-week public consultation on the draft order runs from April 24 to July17. Copies of are available from the Welsh Assembly Government TB team or from the Assembly Government’s website.

Members are urged to take part in the consultation to oppose the Badger Cull.
The Red Fox is a native of Britain and is basically a small wild dog. It is at the top of its food chain and its population has never been subject to control by the predation of other species. The fox population is controlled by availability of food in a defended territory. The territory can be occupied by a fox family or a pair. A family usually consists of one dog fox and 1-3 vixens of which only the dominant vixen will produce a litter. Foxes generally mate in January and produce their cubs in March. An average litter is 4-5 cubs. During the summer the family will stay together living mainly above ground, but in the autumn and through the winter the young males will leave to find their own territories and mates. The young vixens may stay on to assist with the care of the following year’s litter produced by the dominant vixen. This is a natural method of population suppression.

Foxes are highly adaptable and live on a diet of earthworms, beetles, rodents, rabbits and carrion. Foxes do not deserve their reputation as pests of agriculture. Losses of lambs, piglets and poultry to foxes are insignificant compared to poor husbandry. Local problems with fox predation on livestock can be prevented by electric fencing and secure housing. Foxes do no damage to crops and are very beneficial to farmers by consuming rabbits, voles and other pests of agricultural crops.

Foxes have a potential lifespan comparable to a small dog – up to 14 years in captivity. However in the wild only a minority of foxes survive their first year, and most (about 95 per cent) die before their first birthday. This heavy death rate is generally due to man.

Urban foxes pose no significant threat to the health of humans or domestic animals. Reports of foxes killing cats are rare and generally unsubstantiated. Other pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs can be protected by secure housing – foxes do not carry keys.

In general, most urban fox ‘problems’ are more imaginary than real. Most real problems are isolated cases and are more likely to cure themselves (often when a litter of cubs grows up and moves away) than they are to be cured by outside interference.