That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to enhance the welfare of dogs by strengthening the regulation of dog breeding establishments; and to provide for related matters.
I am proud to introduce Aontú's Dog Breeding Establishments (Amendment) Bill 2021, or the puppy farm Bill, on First Stage. This is the second animal welfare Bill Aontú has introduced in the Dáil in the past six months. The criminal justice (theft and fraud offences) (amendment) (pets) Bill 2021 was introduced by me at the end of January to create a minimum 10-month prison sentence for those caught stealing family pets. That Bill has passed First Stage and awaits an opportunity to be presented on Second Stage.
Animal welfare and the protection of animals is a subject that has been paid much lip service by politicians of all parties. It is an issue that is hugely important to many people in our communities who want to see action, not just words. Aontú has sought to deliver that action by putting forward pragmatic and reasonable legislative proposals, which I urge all political parties in this House to support. The purpose of Aontú's Bill is to enhance the welfare of dogs by strengthening the regulation of dog breeding establishments and ensuring enforcement of relevant statutory provisions.
According to Rescue Animals Ireland, Ireland is considered the puppy farm capital of Europe. Due to the poor conditions on some puppy farms, many animals suffer greatly. Dogs can develop serious illnesses and ailments, which have long-term health consequences. As of 2016, there were 73 registered puppy farms in Ireland. In 2018, there were as many as 258 registered dog breeding establishments. Figures show these farms are capable of producing 30,000 puppies a year. Animal welfare organisations have warned that some puppy farms have up to 500 breeding animals at any time. What we see here is not what families normally see when they purchase a puppy from another family down the road who has a litter of pups. These are industrial-scale breeding facilities. It is quite shocking. That is without even looking at the illegal puppy farm operations across the country, which the State is struggling to tackle.
In February, the ISPCA took into care 60 dogs found on an illegal puppy farm in the midlands. In November 2020, 32 dogs were rescued from an illegal puppy farm in north Dublin with an estimated value of €150,000. That is what is happening. The value of pets has skyrocketed over the past while for a number of reasons. I have a 14-year-old dog who is a cross between a red setter and a golden retriever. Rua is his name. I bought him for €50, 14 years ago. The same dog can be bought online for €1,500 today. A phenomenal level of profit is being made on the breeding and sale of these animals.
We have received many reports of significantly uneven enforcement of existing legislation by local authorities. This has to change. We seek that each local authority commission a specific individual or team to ensure protections are enforced. Our Bill introduces a minimum standard for animals. We strengthen the five freedoms contained in the 2010 Act, to which each dog breeder must adhere in the raising of these animals. Under our Bill, the dog must be kept in such a manner as to avoid unnecessary suffering. Dogs must receive treatment when necessary from a veterinary practitioner. Dogs must be permitted to exhibit their natural and normal behaviour and to have the company of other dogs. Our Bill amends the definition of "authorised person" in the 2010 Act to ensure the person who acts under that term should be appointed specifically to fulfil this duty. The problem exists that some local authorities are doing this job very well, while others have appointed an individual who might wear three, four or five hats and is unable to attend to the job at hand.
Our Bill significantly increases the penalty for breaking the law for puppy farms. As I mentioned earlier, profits have gone sky high and existing fines are not really relevant to puppy farm owners, especially illegal puppy farms owners. The current fines are not a sufficient deterrent. The previous maximum fine of €5,000 becomes the minimum fine for summary conviction in our Bill and we introduce a €10,000 fine for convictions on indictment. There are people breeding dogs who do it to the best of their ability in a humane way, but we need to enforce the law against the others.