Farmers dogged by breed laws

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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Moves to ban puppy farms in WA could lead to onerous requirements and unnecessary costs for farmers breeding working dogs, according to leaders of prominent WA working dog associations.

They want to ensure owners of working dogs are exempt from legislation that aims to stamp out puppy farms, as promised by the Labor Government if it wins the next election.

Grass Valley farmer and WA Working Sheep Dogs Association President Grant Cooke said breeding an occasional litter of working dogs was vastly different to running commercial puppy farms, and farmers with working dogs should not be subject to the same tough requirements.

He said farmers did not keep their dogs in the notorious conditions often associated with puppy farms, including overcrowding, over-breeding and poor hygiene.

Rather, Mr Cooke said, like many farmers, he would occasionally breed pups for his own purposes and would sell any excess.

Among Mr Cooke's seven dogs are two bitches aged five and six which have never been mated. He has not bred a litter of pups for two years.

"We rely on these dogs to work for us. It's in our very best interests to look after them and not treat them as breeding machines," Mr Cooke said.

But even as a small-scale breeder, he would have to make drastic changes if WA followed the Victorian rules.

Under similar Victorian legislation, Mr Cooke and other WA farmers wanting to breed their best sheep dogs would have to abide by onerous requirements, including providing concrete-floored kennels with associated infrastructure such as septic tanks. The kennels would need to be washed out daily and the farmers would be required to keep specific records.

The bitch would need to be vet checked prior to and after mating, and after whelping (birth of puppies).

Gidgegannup sheep farmer and geneticist Don Robertson, also vice-chairman of the Working Kelpie Council of Australia, said unless registered as a breeding animal, dogs would need to be sterilised at six months of age. "This is unworkable as the true traits of a good working dog often do not emerge for several years," he said.

Dr Robertson said such tough conditions would lead to a reduction in the working dog gene pool and poorer quality dogs being available over the longer term, as fewer farmers would select and breed their best genetics.

He said those who breed working dogs already follow a Code of Welfare for Australian Livestock Working Dogs.

The 40-page code has been endorsed and adopted by the agricultural industry. It represents about 3000 working dog trial enthusiasts involved in clubs and associations, as well as 100,000 farmers in Australia who use working dogs on farms.

"This demonstrates the industry is very on-side and probably ahead of the game in terms of good welfare by having this code in place," Dr Robertson said.

Dr Robertson said an exemption for working dogs would be easy to implement.

"There is already a framework in place to identify bona fide working dogs, as owners of these are entitled to pay just 25 per cent of the normal fee registration fee," he said.

He said in NSW working dogs were exempt from the laws aimed to ban puppy factories.

Dr Robertson, Mr Cooke and Kellerberrin farmer Gordon Curtis, also President of the Australian Federation for Livestock Working Dogs, have been lobbying relevant parties to ensure WA farmers who breed dogs are not subject to tough measures aimed at stopping puppy farms.

Last week they meet with representatives of the RSPCA in WA and provided them with the Code of Conduct.

Dr Robertson said senior RSPCA representatives seemed open to their views, and he was hopeful common sense would prevail.

They have also discussed the issue and provided the Welfare Code to WA Opposition Leader Mark McGowan.

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