On the 6 April, the Government introduced new legislation to improve the welfare of pets by banning third-party sale of puppies and kittens in England.
This is known as Lucy's Law and means it's now illegal for commercial dealers to sell puppies and kittens unless they have bred the animals themselves. Anyone wanting to get a new puppy or kitten in England must buy direct from a breeder or consider adopting from a rescue centre instead.
The law is named after Lucy, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who was rescued from a puppy farm in Wales where she was subjected to terrible conditions. Lucy went on to be re-homed in 2013 and found a loving owner in Lisa Garner; her story helped inspire a change in the law.
Lucy died in 2016 and a year later, the Lucy's Law campaign was launched by TV vet Marc Abraham. The campaign was created as a tribute to her and all dogs who are abused or reared in unsuitable environments.
What does Lucy's Law mean for pet owners?
The new legislation means that anyone wishing to buy a puppy or kitten will have to go directly to a breeder or a rescue centre. The introduction of Lucy's Law encourages pet owners and buyers to seek qualified and experienced breeders when looking to buy a new pet.
One of the objectives of the law is to ensure that puppies and kittens are healthy and have access to good living conditions at the start of their lives. It should also reduce the chance of pet owners buying puppies and kittens with serious health problems or that are too young to be sold legally.
The Government has advised that the public can help support the new law by always asking to see puppies and kittens interact with their mothers in their place of birth when visiting a breeder. Legally, the puppy or kitten must be breed in the place it is being sold.
They should look out for any warning signs and report any behaviour that appears suspicious.
Ideally the puppy or kitten should be over 8 weeks old when it is sold.
Why is Lucy's Law important?
The new law is part of the Government's commitment to promoting better animal welfare.
Before Lucy's Law was introduced, charities and animal rights groups had expressed concerns over the poor treatment of dogs in puppy farms, who were living in unsuitable conditons and seperated from their mothers prematurely.
Members of the public who bought puppies and kittens from third-party commercial sellers were not always aware of the conditions their pets had been born and reared in. There were also reports of older cats and dogs that were sold having accidental litters, with their owners unaware their pets were pregnant.
At the time, the RSPCA's deputy chief executive Chris Wainwright said: "Breeders aren't getting the scrutiny on their premises because they're passing these dogs off to third parties and it often leaves families with sick animals."
Between 2009 and 2019, the RSPCA dealt with almost 30,000 complaints relating to the illegal puppy trade. When investigating reports of animal cruelty and neglect, the RSPCA will offer advice and assistance where possible to improve animal welfare. This will include giving people time to make improvements to their standards of care.
In circumstances where this isn't possible, where assistance hasn't been accepted or where there have been deliberate acts of violence against an animal, the RSPCA will consider prosecution under laws such as the Animal Welfare Act.
In the case of Lucy, she was kept in a dark cramped cage for 5 years and forced to deliver litter after litter. When she was found, Lucy was severely underweight, with a deformed spine and bald spots.
Puppy farms across the UK have depended on third-party sellers or ‘dealers’ to distribute the animals. But in too many cases, puppies were often sick, traumatised, and unsocialised after being taken away from their mothers at just a few weeks of age.
Lucy's Law removes these third party sellers and means all cat and dog breeders are responsible for the health and wellbeing of these animals.
Does Lucy's Law cover the the whole of the UK?
The law only applies in England but campaigners want the legislation to be introduced in Scotland and Wales.
Under Welsh Government regulations, anyone who breeds three litters or more per year must be licensed by their local council. This also applies across the UK.
The Scottish government has said it will introduce laws to regulate the sale of young animals but no date has been given on when this will take place.
In Scotland, a breeder will require a license if they sell five or more litters in a year and advertise a business breeding and selling dogs.
Does Lucy's Law apply to kittens?
The sale and breeding requirements for kittens and puppies under Lucy's Law are the same.
If you intend to buy a kitten you should approach a cat breeder or rehoming centre directly. Kitten sales from third-party providers such as pet shops are no longer allowed.
Kittens should not be homed until they are at least 8 weeks old but you will find that kittens born to reputable breeders will normally stay with their mothers until they are 12 or 13 weeks old or until they have found a new home.
When buying a kitten you should make sure you view it with its mother and in the environment in which it was bred, this will help tell you if it has been well socialised. You should also ask to see proof of its vaccinations and any veterinary records.
The RSPCA has designed The Kitten Checklist, which gives pet buyers information on what they should know before making the decision to buy a new kitten.
What rules will breeders and commercial pet sellers have to comply with?
Commercial pet sellers can no longer sell pets under the age of 8 weeks. All licensed pet sellers and breeders advertising pets for sale will be required to share their license number and the name of the authority that issued it.
They’ll also have to share the animals’ age, country of residence and country of origin and display a picture of true likeness of the pet. Sales will have to be completed in person at the premises where the dog has been kept.
Puppies and kittens will have to be shown in the presence of their mothers.
Campaigners hope these requirements will encourage more responsible behaviour from sellers and buyers and discourage impulse buying of pets, particularly around the Christmas period.
Breeders who operate without a license or who fail to comply with the requirements set out by Lucy's Law could face prosecution. While the Government has committed to supporting tougher sentences for animal cruelty, raising maximum prison sentences from six months to five years.
How has Lucy's Law been received?
There has been a positive response to the introduction of Lucy's Law.
The RSPCA's chief executive, Chris Sherwood, said: "We're incredibly pleased that the UK Government is today introducing a ban on third-party sales of puppies and kittens in England. We hope these laws will be properly enforced so that all dogs who are used for breeding and selling will live happy, healthy lives where their welfare is prioritised above profits."
The founder of the Lucy Law campaign, Marc Abraham said: "Lucy was an incredibly brave dog, and it’s right that her memory is honoured with such an important piece of legislation to help end puppy farm cruelty."