Dog owners who decide to breed their pets and sell the puppies to shops have been warned that they will no longer fall outside animal trading laws under a new government proposal.
More than 70 per cent of animals sold at pet shops came from hobby breeders, said Carmen Chan Wai-man, executive officer of Happy Animals. Another 4 per cent are imported and 22 per cent are bought from licensed breeders.
'By introducing a licensing system, the government can step up its monitoring of he animals' living and health conditions,' she said.
Too many commercial breeders disguise themselves as 'hobby' breeders to escape regulations, and it should be stopped, she said.
Animal welfare groups were told in a meeting with the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department that so-called 'hobby breeders' - as opposed to recognised animal-breeding businesses - would no longer escape government scrutiny.
Under existing laws, animal traders, including breeding facilities and pet shops, must hold an animal trader licence issued by the department and observe the licensing conditions. In contrast, hobby breeders can sell puppies to pet shops as long as they obtain a certificate signed by a vet, proving they are not breeding animals as part of a business enterprise. How they take care of the mother dogs is not subjected to control.
To plug the loophole, it is proposed that pet owners who have up to four mother dogs and who want to sell their offspring to shops should get a 'private breeder' licence. If an owner has more than four, they could be categorised as 'commercial breeders' and may face stricter regulations, said lawmaker Fred Li Wah-ming, who was at the meeting.
If pet owners do not intend to sell the offspring then it would not be necessary for them to get a licence.
Li said the department intended to launch a public consultation on its plans and hoped to table an amendment bill to pet trading laws in the next legislative year.
Mark Mak Chi-ho, from the Non-Profit Making Veterinary Services Society, said tighter controls might make a lot of breeders quit the trade.
'It could result in an increase in puppy prices. But that's what we want to see. People are too casual with pets when they can get a dog for a few hundred dollars,' he said.
Howard Cheung, director of pet shop Dog One Life, wants the government to address the problem of illegal dog smuggling when drafting the amendment.
'As long as a pet breeder gets a vet to sign on a certificate, he can sell the pet. There is no guarantee that the dog is bred by himself and not coming from some illegal dog farms across the border,' he said.
In response to an inquiry by the South China Morning Post, a spokesman for the department said: 'The administration is looking into tightening the control of hobby breeders to enhance the welfare of dogs that are involved in the pet trade.'
The department is considering a number of proposals such as issuing permits for hobby breeders, but details have yet to be finalised. It would continue talks with stakeholders to gather information and comments, he said.
Animal trader licences were issued in 2009-10
- 70% of pet shop animals come from hobby breeders