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Lucy’s Law: what it means for buying and selling puppies

April 6, 2020

Lucy’s Law makes it illegal for third party commercial traders to sell puppies and kittens in England. Find out who Lucy was, why this law is needed, and what it means for buying and selling puppies. 

The trade in puppies has long been rife with problems. This includes illegal puppy farming in Wales and the smuggling of puppies from eastern European countries. These puppies entered the UK via a loophole in the PETS passport scheme, having been transported hundreds or thousands of miles across the continent. Sold to unsuspecting new owners via third party dealers, many puppies became seriously ill or died within days or weeks. 

Who was Lucy? 

Lucy’s Law is named after a little dog called Lucy, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Her heartbreaking story of the terrible conditions she endured as a breeding machine on a puppy farm helped to highlight the need for legislation to clamp down on this cruel and indiscriminate trade. TV vet and champion of Lucy’s Law, Marc Abraham has written a book about Lucy’s story: Lucy’s Law: the story of a little dog who changed the world.

How does Lucy’s Law work? 

Every year, thousands of people in the UK buy a puppy. This has led to a high demand for puppies and a business opportunity for unscrupulous traders. The new law bans the third party sale of puppies, which means that, in England, puppies can only be sold to new owners by breeders or rescue centres. Essentially, Lucy’s Law cuts out the dealers who bought puppies from puppy farms or smuggled them in from breeding establishments overseas to be sold into the UK market. 

By making it a legal requirement for puppies to be sold directly from breeders, it means that there will be greater visibility over how and where puppies are bred and sold. Lucy’s Law will also help to stamp out the importation of puppies from overseas. The lack of traceability of puppies from overseas has been linked to bad breeding and sick and dying puppies. 

How do I buy a puppy? 

As it currently stands, Lucy’s Law only applies in England, but similar legislation is expected in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  

There are also laws governing the breeding of dogs in England, Wales and Scotland. If you buy a puppy from a licensed breeder it means they are meeting the legal standards for breeding dogs. However, the term ‘licensed breeder’ relates to small-scale professional breeders as well large-scale commercial breeders, commonly referred to as puppy farms. Therefore, a licensed breeder doesn’t necessarily signify a good breeder. 

In England, the law requires anyone to be licensed by their local authority if they breed three or more litters per year and sell at least one puppy in a 12 month period. 

Similar laws in Scotland and Wales require breeders to be licensed if they produce more than five litters a year. 

Assured breeders schemes

The Scottish SPCA has launched an Assured Breeders Scheme to make it easier and safer to buy a puppy from a breeder. Elsewhere, you can begin your search with the Kennel Club’s Assured Breeders Scheme

Buyer beware

Even with Lucy’s Law in place, puppy dealers will try to find new ways to dupe unsuspecting puppy buyers. This means that you need to be on your guard when it comes to buying a puppy and walk away if something seems suspicious. Read this guidance from the UK government on how to buy a puppy safely and avoid being ‘petfished’.

If you buy a puppy, make sure:

  • The puppy has been bred and raised in a family home.
  • You will be able to see the puppy with its mother in the place where it was born.
  • The puppy is confident and inquisitive.
  • The breeder has started to socialise the puppy (e.g. to get them used to different people, being handled and brushed and having their paws touched).
  • The puppy will be microchipped and wormed before going to their new home.

To protect yourself when buying a puppy:

  • Arrange to visit a litter of puppies when they are 4-6 weeks old, rather than ready to go. This will stop a puppy seller from trying to persuade you to buy a puppy from them there and then. It will also give you lots of time to properly meet the puppies, get a sense of how they interact with you, the breeder, their mother and siblings, and ask lots of questions before you decide to buy.  
  • Only pay for a puppy once you have seen it with its mother in the place where it was born. If you are asked to put down a deposit, make sure it is refundable. Don’t pay by phone or use Paypal or Western Union. 
  • Use the Puppy Contract. This is a legally binding contract between the breeder and you, the buyer. A reputable breeder will be happy to use the Puppy Contract.

Read this story: Choosing the perfect puppy for our family