Dogs 4 Us exposed by BBC’s Panorama

Britain's largest puppy warehouse Dogs4Us and their de facto manager, Maureen McCadden are no strangers to investigative television programmes. In 2009 Channel 5 News and Sky News showed the disgraceful conditions in three puppy farms – sorry, “licensed breeders” – in Wales, known to be supplying puppies to Dogs4Us.

Then in May 2016 BBC’s prestigious Panorama broadcast a film focusing on the supply chain for the puppy trade in Britain. Reporter Sam Poling crossed the Irish Sea to investigate two large scale puppy farms – sorry, “licensed breeders” – one in Northern and one in Southern Ireland.

In County Armagh Northern Ireland, the team visited premises owned by Eric Hale, who at the time was licensed by the local authority to keep 120 dogs of many breeds and registered by the Kennel Club as a breeder of Beagles.

Undercover footage of the conditions on these premises was shown to a panel of experts in animal health, behaviour and welfare legislation. All were appalled by what they saw, with Mike Radford, Animal Welfare Legislation Expert at the University of Aberdeen commenting “No local authority should be licensing these sort of conditions” and “These dogs are being treated as agricultural animals”.

Hale was filmed on regular ferry trips across the Irish Sea with a van loaded with puppies which were delivered to dealers across the mainland, many of whom then sold them illegally through internet advertising.

But Hale has also been supplying puppies to Dogs 4 Us for many years, along with numerous other puppy farmers – sorry, “licensed breeders”.

The programme then turned to the health issues associated with puppies bred in these conditions. Former deputy manager of the Dogs 4 Us Leeds branch, Nicola Robinson, had kept a file of hereditary health related customer complaints which she shared with Sam Poling.

In addition, Ms Robinson claimed that some puppies arrived at far too young an age to have been separated from their mothers and in some instances, dying from Parvovirus, a disease often found in the cramped conditions of intensive breeding.

When Poling put these allegations to Dogs 4 Us their response was that they were made by a disgruntled ex-employee with a grudge. Well, yes, she is an ex-employee and clearly unhappy with her former employer, but what about disproving her claims? Not a word!

On their website Dogs 4 Us stated that one of the reasons to buy from them rather than online is that “all of our puppies come from licensed breeders and are completely traceable”.

Chelsee Healey, actress and Strictly Come Dancing runner up would disagee. She purchased Reggie, her miniature smooth haired dachshund puppy from Dogs 4 Us in 2015.

One of a number of celebrity customers of Dogs 4 Us, she now realises she should have given more thought to where her puppy came from. Ms Healey asked the Panorama team if they could find out more about Reggie’s breeder from the details in the Dog Lovers Registration Club pedigree certificate provided.

Sam Poling travelled to the address given in North Wales, but the occupants of the property had never heard of the individual named. Nor did the local authority have any record of a dog breeding license issued for the property. So the breeder is neither registered nor traceable.

Your guess is as good as mine as to why Dogs 4 Us would not want a purchaser to know where their puppy had actually come from.

As a footnote to the programme, Eric Hale's breeding licence was not renewed by his local authority when it came up for renewal following an inspection. That decision may or may not have been influenced by Panorama's involvement, but either way it is to be applauded. It's just a pity that other licensing authorities both in Wales and the Republic of Ireland don't take their companion animal welfare responsibilities so seriously.

(Screenshots from BBC's Panorama programme 'Britain's Puppy Dealers Exposed' first broadcast on 16 May 2016 and available on BBC iPlayer for 11 months.)