Chelmsford Borough Council - The MJ Awards

Chelmsford Borough Council - The MJ Awards


MJ Awards 2012 - Public Protection

Public Protection - Innovative use of Animal

Welfare Legislation


The Environmental Services Team at Chelmsford

Borough Council work tirelessly to protect

public health and enhance community wellbeing.

Some of our best and most innovative public

protection examples relate to our use of animal

welfare legislation to provide protection against

rogue animal breeders and dangerously out of

control dogs. In particular, we would like to

share with you our work on pet shop licensing

with regard to the sale of imported puppies

originating from unlicensed Southern Ireland

puppy farms.

Puppy farms are large scale breeding premises,

which operate with the sole aim of making

money, often with no concern for the dogs

themselves who are kept in poor conditions.

Puppies are then sold to the public through pet

shops, the internet and newspaper


Puppies that are bred on puppy farms will often

have physical defects, parasitic infestation, skin

infections, hereditary diseases and/or behavioural

problems. Buying puppies that have been bred in

such a way leaves the public vulnerable to

financial and emotional loss.

This bid highlights how we have taken a

challenging approach to the policy and

procedures surrounding this issue and how we

have innovatively used the animal welfare

legislation in place to further protect the public.



How the project came into being

We began to notice that we were receiving regular

complaints regarding sick and dying puppies which

had been purchased from a licensed pet shop within

the borough.

The pet shop premises in question met the Local

Government Association (LGA) Model Licence

Conditions and although it sold puppies imported

from an unlicensed Southern Ireland puppy farm, this

trade was found to be legal. On the pet shop

premises, the puppies appeared to be healthy to

purchasers, our Environmental Protection Officers

and vets. However, the puppies sold regularly became

sick a few days after purchase.

As the number of complaints continued to grow, the

relationship between Trading Standards and our

Environmental Services Team became strained - with

neither party understanding why action couldn't be

taken by the other.

As sick puppy complaints escalated we committed to

finding a way to resolve the seemingly unenforceable

issue, creating innovative conditions, overturning

outdated policies and satisfying customer demand.

Distraught members of the public who had bought a

puppy from the pet shop were passed between the

County's Trading Standards and our own

Environmental Services Departments - finding it

incomprehensible that the importation of puppies

was legal and not a reason to revoke the pet shop's

licence. The public were left with high veterinary bills

and were understandably very upset.

Complaints from the public continued to rise and

increased by 25% between 2007 and 2008. The

RSPCA would also regularly refer complaints to us.


Our strategy comprised of the following steps:

Step 1 - Meeting to establish a partnership

We arranged a meeting with Trading Standards and

the RSPCA to understand:

Why puppies were becoming ill and/or dying days

after purchase when they appeared healthy at the

point of sale

The limitations of the legislation enforced by each

organisation and the powers available

How we could support each other

The meeting was important in identifying a way

forward and it was agreed that we would:

Take the lead in the review and commit to finding

a resolution through the licensing system

Keep the partners up to date on complaints and

progress with the review

Appoint an independent veterinary advisory that

was nominated by Trading Standards to work with


Call upon the support of our partners for advice

where appropriate. In particular, the RSPCA

helped us understand the practices and deceit of

the puppy trade and put their veterinary

professionals at our disposal for advice as we

considered various strategies


Step 2 - Review of the licensed


As the licensing authority, we were the only ones who

had straightforward powers of entry to inspect the

licensed pet shop premises. As a result, the public,

other concerned organisations and partners were

sceptical as to what conditions within were really like.

To instil our partners' and the public's trust, we

appointed an independent vet, nominated by Trading

Standards to inspect with us. We also secured entry

for an RSPCA inspector to make a joint visit with us

and have an opportunity to make recommendations.

Little fault was found with the premises and by taking

this approach we gained trust from the public and

amongst partners in our professional practices.

Step 3 - Investigating a possible ban

on the importation of puppies

We wanted to investigate the potential for banning

the importation of puppies from Southern Ireland to

the pet shop in Chelmsford. Following discussions

with Defra we concluded that we could not legally

ban the importation of puppies from Southern Ireland

or their acceptance onto pet shop premises. We did,

however, ascertain that puppies must be eight weeks

of age to be legally transported over 40 miles without

their mother. We suspected that puppies were being

taken from their mother and transported at a much

younger age and so identified this as a priority area to


Step 4 - Identifying the cause of

sickness in puppies after sale

The advice of the appointed vet and the RSPCA

veterinary professionals helped us understand why

puppies appeared healthy at the pet shop but became

ill days after purchase.

The puppies' origins meant they would potentially

have been exposed to disease, be stressed and have

low immunity, which would have been caused by one

of, or a combination of the following:

Over-breeding of the mother

Overcrowding of breeding pens

Lack of disease control and vaccination


No socialisation of animals

Taking the puppies abruptly from their mothers

too young (five/six weeks suspected) without any


Puppies being stressed by improper weaning

Puppies stressed by the long journey to the UK in

a van

On pet shop premises the puppies would acclimatise

with their brothers and sisters but, when exposed to

the further stress of moving to their new home, away

from brothers and sisters, any disease they might be

incubating would manifest itself and socialisation

issues would become evident.

Purchasers would sign to say that having examined

the puppy before sale it appeared to be in good

health - thereby agreeing that licence conditions had

been met.


Step 5 - Preventing the puppies from

becoming sick

The Problem

The Solutions

Age and immunity - The pet shop wanted

young stock as the younger they are, the “cuter”

and more saleable they are, but crucially at this age

the more prone to stress and disease the puppies

are. Puppies should be weaned at eight weeks to

increase immunity and reduce stress - and be

legally able to travel. The age of a puppy is,

however, almost impossible to determine -

especially by the lay person.

Vaccination - All partners agreed puppies should

be vaccinated against Parvovirus - a particularly

fatal disease amongst young puppies - before being

brought onto the pet shop premises. To ensure

that the vaccination had time to take effect it was

agreed that a period of one week from the date of

the vaccination should be allowed before the

puppy could be accepted into the pet shop


Quarantine periods - A week of quarantine

would enable puppies' health to be assessed after

importation and provide an opportunity for

disease to manifest itself, whilst also having the

added benefit of increasing the age of the puppy

before sale.


Step 6 - Review of the Model Licence Conditions set by the Local Government

Association (LGA) in 1998

Through undertaking a detailed review, we found that

Model Licence Conditions set by the Local

Government Association (LGA) were out of touch

with modern pet trade practices and had numerous


We felt that one of the prime loopholes was that

animals should only be sold if healthy “as far as could

reasonably be ascertained without veterinary

inspection”. Our lawyers, however, considered this

reasonable and felt that requiring a veterinary

inspection of every puppy or animal before sale would

be unfair on businesses. Additionally, veterinary

advisors confirmed that often, at point of sale, many

of the diseases reported would not be identifiable as

the symptoms would not yet be displayed.

It was clear to us that conditions needed to be

designed to ensure puppies were less stressed, older

(or at least not imported prior to the proper age of

weaning) and vaccinated against disease. Any new

conditions adopted had to be set against the

constraint of licensing objectives.


Step 7 - Implement, review effectiveness and adapt new conditions

We prepared conditions that met the constraint of

the statutory licensing objectives and addressed our

local need to protect against the effects of the Irish

puppy farm trade.

In 2009 we made our first major departure from

standard LGA Model Licence Conditions by

introducing vaccinations and other controls. The

RSPCA recognised our work to improve a previously

seemingly unenforceable problem and awarded us

their Innovator's Award 2009. We did not rest,

however, as there was still much to be done. The

work on our conditions was a matter of stepped

changes that needed reviewing and amending over a

period of time.

As a result, our standard conditions are a continual

work in progress closing loopholes as they appear.

Our conditions can be updated or tailored to meet

individual circumstances without bureaucratic

recourse to our committees, as the Head of

Environmental Services was given delegated authority.

“It was felt that this work was not only innovative but a huge challenge for a second-tier authority to carry

out. The consultation and work with other agencies and the potential as a model of good practice made

Chelmsford a worthy winner of this year's award.”



Our New Conditions

In January 2009 we required Parvovirus

vaccinations to be administered before puppies

were accepted onto the premises along with

quarantine and acclimatisation periods. Following

the introduction of this condition, complaints of

sick puppies reduced but did not cease. We found

that vaccination records were unrecognised by UK

veterinarians and it transpired that in Southern

Ireland lay people, such as puppy breeders, can

legally administer vaccinations. We also suspected

that puppy ages were being falsified.

In 2010, having consulted our partners, we

redrafted conditions to require vaccinations to be

undertaken by registered veterinary personnel and

recorded on authenticated certificates.

Authentication by a registered vet provided

greater confidence in the recorded dates of birth

of the puppies. We also extended the requirement

for vaccination from just Parvovirus to include

Distemper, Leptospirosis and Infectious


Although puppies were given some immunity prior

to acceptance onto shop premises, we found that

those puppies that remained unsold were not

receiving follow on vaccinations. The public

believed that they had purchased fully vaccinated

puppies only to be informed by their vets that they

had to restart the complete course. This meant

considerable financial cost to the public and as a

result we redrafted conditions to require follow

on vaccinations if puppies remained on the

premises when follow up vaccinations were due.


Step 8 - Enforcing the conditions

Our Environmental Health Officers made personal

visits to advise pet shop licensees of the changes to

licence conditions. Advisory visits were made to the

pet shop trading in Irish puppies with the vet, to

ensure the licensee understood the requirements and

reasons for control - giving every opportunity for


We saw the number of complaints received reduce in

2009 after our work and introduction of vaccinations.

However, these increased in 2010 and scrutiny of

records kept by traders revealed “unauthenticated”

records and documents - indicating that puppy ages

were being falsified, as were vaccinations. In 2010 and

2011 we took three successful prosecutions for

breach of the new conditions - primarily vaccination

breaches. Whilst our conditions were upheld these

offences were seen by the courts as largely

administrative offences.

A further prosecution was taken in 2011 when two

puppies died within a week of purchase - not having

been vaccinated or quarantined. This exemplified why

the conditions were necessary and we asked the

Court to administer a lifetime ban to the licensee

from keeping a pet shop. The licensee was disqualified

from keeping a pet shop for five years.

The prosecutions and disqualification of a persistent

offender, and deaths of the unvaccinated puppies,

confirmed the importance of our insistence in

changing conditions. We would have been unable to

take action under the LGA model conditions.

The cases sent a message to all animal licence holders

in the borough that we actively enforce welfare

breaches and protect the public from being taken

advantage of. Greater co-operation in compliance

with animal related licences is now evident.

“It is clear that Chelmsford are very proactive

and keen to improve services, particularly

around the licensing of pet shops and breeding




Step 9 - Education

Alongside enforcement we are committed to

promoting ethical purchasing of puppies. We support

welfare groups and provide detailed guidance on our

web site. We have also published a YouTube video

providing guidance to potential purchasers on how

they can ensure that they buy a puppy ethically, and

run a number of events that support and promote

responsible dog ownership in the borough.

Step 10 - Continuing action

Staff dealing with the enforcement of, often emotive,

animal welfare issues, are provided with training in

enforcement and case preparation skills and are

accredited under the Community Safety Accreditation

Scheme. This provides officers with confidence and

improves partnership working with other

enforcement agencies, including the police.

We see the value of information gathering and sharing

and believe this is essential in the national

enforcement of animal welfare related crime. We are

therefore committed to support the National

Information Database and train officers in its use.



Chelmsford Borough Council responded to reports

from the public where they had suffered loss after

buying a puppy from a pet shop in the borough which

imported from an unlicensed Southern Ireland puppy

farm. We identified problems in legislation, policies

and procedures and challenged what could be done.

We acted with support from our partners to tackle

the problems and seek a permanent resolution.

The RSPCA see our work as best practice and as a

best model for other authorities experiencing these

problems. Consequently, Horsham District Council in

West Sussex has accepted our model conditions and

will be introducing them from January 2012. Other

enquiries include those from Forest Heath, Kingston

and Sevenoaks councils. We are pleased to offer

support to other authorities wishing to tackle the

issues we have overcome, as well as to those wishing

to introduce our model conditions.

Chelmsford often arranges low cost training events

for neighbouring boroughs to further educate and

share best practice. There are plans to run a seminar

in 2012/2013 to share our experiences with other

authorities that enforce animal welfare. We believe

that this will be instrumental in ensuring that there is

a uniformed approach to licensing and enforcement

through adjacent local authorities and further a field.

The licensing review has demonstrated not

only the willingness to take advice and

information and apply it, but also the desire to

make conditions that truly work.

Genuinely Chelmsford has been a pleasure to

work with to date and I hope that it continues

to lead the way in innovative and progressive

policies around licensing and animal welfare.”



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