Dog owner says Northland puppy breeder should have been shut down earlier

An Auckland dad who bought a puppy from an alleged puppy farm in Northland wants to know why the breeder wasn’t shut down much earlier.

Electrician Andre Marsh said his golden retriever Sharna has been “plagued with health issues” since he purchased her as a six-week-old puppy from the large dog-breeding operation near Dargaville in 2015.

However, golden retrievers are known for genetic issues like hip dysplasia, cancer, and skin conditions like atopic dermatitis, and Marsh’s dog is not believed to have developed its issues due to mistreatment from the breeder. Instead, they are likely to be due to genetics.

In May the breeder handed more than 100 dogs and puppies kennelled at the property to the SPCA and the operation was shut down.

The woman voluntarily gave the dogs to the SPCA. The animal welfare charity maintains each animal was well fed and had access to water and shelter, and there were no breaches to the Animal Welfare Act.

Marsh, who paid $3500 for Sharna and has since spent more than $5000 on vet bills, claimed the entire property was “a mess”.

“It should have been shut down earlier and investigated properly. It was a filthy place. Everything I saw was a mess, there was dog [poop] everywhere,” he claims.

The Northern Advocate has attempted to contact the breeder several times but did not get a response before deadline.

SPCA inspectors first visited the property last year and started an investigation after receiving an animal welfare concern.

Animal advocates filmed themselves breaking into the property after becoming concerned for the animals’ health and welfare.

The footage showed dozens of dogs of various breeds, including beagles, golden retrievers, poodles and Maltese, in close confinement behind corrugated iron fencing. Inside their pens, they were standing on broken pallets on the floor.

An SPCA spokesperson said it was unable to comment further on the case due to privacy reasons, but there had been no breaches to the Animal Welfare Act.

“It’s important to remember SPCA is bound by the Animal Welfare Act and in this case, there were no breaches to the law.”

Marsh said he corresponded with the breeder by phone and email after seeing a Trade Me listing for golden retriever puppies.

He paid a deposit and went on a waiting list, and it wasn’t long before a pup became available.

All the communication seemed professional, Marsh said, and in 2015 he travelled to Dargaville with his son to pick up their new pup.

“It was a dingy place and I was surprised,” he claimed.

“I asked the questions, they seemed professional and proper until you saw the place …”

Sharna, now aged 6, has had repeated trips to the vet to treat skin conditions and ear infections costing “easily over $5000”.

Her skin is irritated and flaking, and her ears are constantly infected and she once suffered a ruptured eardrum.

“She’s beautiful but plagued with health issues,” Marsh said.

“I’ve always had golden retrievers and I’ve never had one with these issues before. She constantly walks around shaking her head. The ear infections keep coming back, and there’s nothing they can do about it.”

Bay of Islands Animal Rescue group founder Summer Johnson said all six retrievers the group obtained from the Dargaville breeder last year had health and behavioural issues.

They were still with foster carers, because they were not yet ready to be rehomed, she said.

Johnson said breeders should have to have qualifications.

Dogs, like people, need a good environment in order to thrive, she said.

“If you’re breeding from a timid withdrawn mother you’re breeding puppies that will be the same because it all starts in the womb, like it does with people.

“If you’re not nurturing your animal through that process, how can it be a good mum when it’s petrified of its surroundings?”

New Zealand’s dog-breeding industry is not regulated, therefore there is no limit on how many dogs a person can be in possession of, unless council bylaws state otherwise.

Huha Charitable Trust is calling to stop the sale of puppies for profit through online traders and in pet stores.

Huha’s “puppy protection campaign” has nearly 25,000 signatures.

Spokeswoman Carolyn Press-McKenzie said the petition would be handed to the Government within the next month.

“The unethical breeders need to be stopped and ethical breeders need to have some sort of register so they can be accountable and monitored,” she said.

“It’s been a problem for a really long time.

“We’ve seen so many animals suffer and so many families who have been affected emotionally and financially.

“It’s a devastating situation and it’s something that needs addressing.”

SPCA scientific officer Dr Alison Vaughan said the animal welfare charity advocates for better standards in the dog breeding industry, including independent regulation and inspection of all breeding establishments.

“The dog breeding industry is poorly regulated, so it’s really important that people looking to purchase a dog from a breeder do their homework first.

“A reputable breeder will be happy to discuss how the puppies are kept, any health checks that have been conducted and how they have been socialised.

“The breeder may also ask the buyer questions about their experience and suitability for owning a dog.

“All responsible breeders should invite people to visit them and meet the parents and puppies before committing to buy.

“This will allow buyers to see first-hand the conditions in which dogs are being bred or cared for by the seller.”

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