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Reform of breeding and boarding sector to improve animal welfare

19:39 18/02/2019

Regulations concerning the breeding and sale of cats and dogs in Flanders, as well as animal shelters and boarding facilities, have been tightened up. The changes, according to animal welfare minister Ben Weyts, are mean to crack down on puppy mills and overcrowding.

The announcement follows a campaign launched by animal rights group Gaia in December, warning buyers about the illegal trade in puppies. Puppy mills are located in Eastern Europe, and the puppies are shipped across Europe illegally to sell.

Most often, buyers are told that the animal was born in Belgium, but in reality they come from a puppy mill in Eastern Europe. In a puppy mill, tens of thousands of female dogs are kept in cages and forced to give birth over and over.

The puppies receive no vaccines and are taken away from the mothers much too early. Buyers often wind up with extremely unhealthy animals as a result.

The new regulations in Flanders make it illegal for a dealer or breeder to trade more than seven different breeds. Reputable breeders, according to Gaia, almost always specialise in just one or two breeds.

Breeders must also show the mother of the puppies or kittens to the buyer if requested. And they must limit the number of litters to three over a period of two years. Previously, this was two a year.

“There was a lot of resistance to these changes,” said Weyts, “especially when it came to the number of litters and the number of breeds on offer. But we’re moving forward. With these new regulations, we are tackling the malicious practices associated with animal breeding, and we are requiring breeders to invest in the animals’ welfare. No more dog supermarkets.”

Also, at least one worker at breeding and trade facilities must have a diploma in animal care, veterinary services or an approved related field. Workers at animal shelters and boarding facilities must also have diplomas or be certified. “Amateurism is now a thing of the past,” said the animal welfare ministry in a statement.

In addition, breeders and sellers must have one full-time employee for every 20 animals and a working fire alarm system. It’s preferable for dogs to have access to outdoor cages, but if they don’t, they must be exercised out of doors for at least two hours a day, five days a week.

Any seller getting animals from a breeder – meaning they did not breed the animal themselves – must place the animal in quarantine for 10 days. Previously, this was five days. And puppies cannot be removed from their mothers until they are eight weeks old. For cats, this raises to 12 weeks.

Breeders and sellers are also now responsible for all the animal’s vaccinations. Previously, they could place this responsibility with the buyer.

Finally, both sellers and breeders must use photographs of their own animals on their websites and in any advertising. They can no longer use stock imagery.

All facilities are being given two years to implement all of the changes, in case renovations are needed. In terms of education and training requirements, businesses are being given a full five years to comply.

In terms of animal shelters, there is another big improvement there, too: Families can now offer foster care to animals without officially adopting them. This allows the animals to be taken care of in a home and for the family to test out whether a pet is right for them. It also allows people who are in Flanders temporarily to offer their home to a pet.

Gaia suggests to “adopt don’t shop” as animal shelters are full of dogs and cats needing good homes. However, Gaia’s campaign has several suggestions for how to recognise good breeders.

Photo courtesy N-VA

Written by Flanders Today