The European Union has never established specific laws regarding for the welfare of dogs and cats. It's time we changed this

Currently, there are no EU-wide regulations regarding the welfare of cats and dogs, and each country is left to establish its own rules and regulations. We are urging candidates in the upcoming elections to make this issue a priority as part of their agendas.
Nell'Unione Europea manca una politica comune per il benessere di cani e gatti

There is a lack of legislation in the European Union for the well-being of dogs and cats

Dogs and cats are arguably the most cherished animals the world over and form an integral part of many people’s lives, yet there are no laws that protect their welfare across the countries that belong to the European Union.

To date, there is no single unified European legislation to ensure consistent standards for the care of dogs and cats living in the EU, whether they are pets or strays.

What this lack of legislation in the European Union signifies for the well-being of dogs and cats

The absence of any such legislation has resulted in a patchwork of different regulations, with significant discrepancies in the management of all aspects related to pets, both in the individual states and within the Union.

For example, some countries such as Italy, Germany, and Greece do not practise euthanasia to control over-population among strays, while it is legal in other countries like Romania, France, and Belgium.

Read also: European elections 2024: advocating for improved protection for animals

While Italy has chosen not to practice euthanasia since 1991, it nevertheless faces severe overcrowding in its shelters. These often resemble prisons and house about 200,000 animals locked up in facilities which they will never be able to leave.

Germany boasts some of the highest standard shelters in Europe, yet it does not require dogs and cats to be registered.

Some countries regulate the breeding, transport, and trade of animals in minute detail, while others do not even have laws against genetic maltreatment. Once again, Italy is among these.

The list goes on and on.

A European directive would make it possible to establish minimum standards for all, allowing individual countries to enact stricter and better animal welfare laws. These would by definition be even more restrictive and, consequently, an improvement in terms of animal welfare.

Within the EU, there is no unified registry for dogs and cats in existence

One of the most urgent aspects to regulate is the absence of a common European registry. Currently, the national registries for the individual countries do not communicate with each other, and each country can decide independently whether or not it requires its citizens to register their pets.

In Italy, dogs are required to be registered within the first two months of their life, and each region has its own database, which then feeds into a national one. However, the registration of cats is not mandatory, although some regions, such as Lombardy and Puglia, have now made it obligatory.

In Germany, the situation is the opposite: it is up to the federal states to decide on micro-chipping and registration, resulting in a patchy “leopard-spot” scenario, with inconsistent practices across the country, some of which are exemplary, while others are negligent.

Ultimately, the exact number of pets in the individual states is unknown and the absence of a European registry prevents national registries from communicating with each other and cannot sharing or verifying data.

Without microchipping and the ability for registries to exchange information, it has become easier to illegally transport and sell animals between different states.

There are 500,000 cats and dogs readily available for sale at any given moment within the EU

It is estimated that almost half a million dogs and cats are available to be sold at any given moment within the EU. This is the figure that has emerged from the 2023 European Commission report Illegal Trade of Cats and Dogs, which highlights how fraudulent activities in this sector are endangering both animal and public health due to the spread of zoonotic diseases (i.e., diseases originating from animals).

This number includes both legally bred animals and those coming from dubious sources. The Commission’s report records an increase in the sale of very young and unvaccinated animals. This trade is worth hundreds of millions of Euros every year, and it is feared that the actual volume is even higher, given that most movements are disguised as being non-commercial.

In 2022, the main suppliers came from Romania and Hungary, with traffickers exploiting existing transport laws to mask illegal activities and pass controls, using forged documents and taking advantage of the lack of trained border personnel.

Online sales are also on the rise

These 500,000 animals are not only available for purchase at any time, but their sale is constantly advertised online, both on dedicated websites and on social media, despite the Terms and Conditions of these platforms prohibiting such transactions.

Here again, regulations vary significantly from country to country: in Italy, ads for selling dogs or cats require the inclusion of the microchip number, and in the case of puppies, the mother’s microchip and a veterinary certificate has to be submitted.

This is not the case in countries like Romania, Germany, and Sweden, where there are no laws regulating the online advertising of cats and dogs.

If European regulations were in existence, it would be easier to enforce rules on the various platforms to regulate advertisements, requiring the states to indicate the microchip and to register the animal being sold in a hypothetical European registry.

Currently, the only way to track movements between countries is the TRACES computer system, which Save the Dogs uses for all dogs sent for adoption abroad.

However, this system also has its limitations, since it is not mandatory and is often ignored.

In the European Union, there are no laws to protect dogs and cats in breeding facilities

In addition to the absence of a common European regulation governing the sale of animals, there are also no laws regulating their breeding. In Italy, for instance, there is no national database of breeders holding the necessary licenses, and there are no laws prohibiting the breeding of animals with genetic conditions that compromise their health, such as brachycephalic breeds.

The term “brachycephalic” refers to dogs and cats with flattened muzzles, such as pugs, bulldogs, French bulldogs, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and boxers. These animals suffer greatly throughout their lives due to health issues caused by this condition: respiratory and cardiac problems, palate and chewing issues, just to name a few, and in most cases, they lead to premature death.

Read also:  The brachycephalic animal fad is fraught with dangers: Save the Dogs launches an appeal

Illegal breeding operations are essentially intensive breeding farms

Breeders perform genetic selection in order to obtain features that make dogs look like puppies for as long as possible, catering to public tastes and trends. This has led to a surge in the sales of these kinds of animals, many of them illegal.

A number of Eastern European countries have ‘specialized’ in breeding these types of dogs, which are now popular among celebrities, as evidenced by the recent scandal involving Carlotta’s Puppies.

The breeding operation in question, based in Slovakia, was selling mixed-breed dogs as French Bulldogs. As our president Sara Turetta explained on ‘Mi Manda Rai Tre’, illegal breeding is akin to intensive dog farming, where the female dogs are forced to undergo at least two surgeries a year to give birth and are killed when they can no longer reproduce.

In Italy, this practice is legal and highly profitable, and comes at the expense of animal welfare.

Other EU countries have stricter regulations. Sweden, for example, not only prohibits the breeding of cats and dogs with hereditary genetic conditions but also has a comprehensive code regulating the facilities, inspections, and hygiene standards of breeding operations. It also maintains a national database of breeders who have obtained the necessary permits.

Norway and the Netherlands have banned certain brachycephalic breeds, thereby making them illegal.

While Germany does not have a national database, its dog protection laws are similar to those in Sweden. In Romania, where we have been active for over 20 years, there is no national database of certified breeders, but there are laws prohibiting the breeding of animals with genetic conditions that could compromise their health.

Once again, each country is free to decide its own approach, and even countries that are advanced in some areas are lagging behind in others.

Thirty percent of cats and dogs in the world do not have a human to care for them

Regulating breeding and sales across Europe is not just an economic issue: it is also a moral obligation. It involves reducing the suffering these animals have to endure, improving their quality of life, and not viewing them merely from a profit and public health perspective, which is often the case in institutional settings.

However, in our view, it is also crucial to reflect on the very concept of breeding dogs and cats solely for sale.

According to recent research conducted by the Humane Society International assocation and the MARS group, 30% of cats and dogs in the world do not have a human to care for them : feral animals, abandoned pets, and unwanted litters struggle every day to survive on the streets or live confined in shelters.

We are therefore witnessing a situation that we have no hesitation in defining as schizophrenic, where on one side illegal breeding for profit continues to proliferate, while at the same time millions of animals are dying from neglect or waiting to be adopted and watching their hopes diminish litter after countless litter.

The phenomenon of stray animals also places a financial burden on state budgets

It is also important to consider the financial impact of these dynamics on individual country budgets. Illegal breeding generates untaxed revenue, enriching the black market and diverting funds from the community.

When it comes to controlling stray animals, 180-200 million Euros of public funds are spent annually in Italy in order to keep abandoned dogs in shelters, at the expense of the local municipalities. Whether a state opts for euthanasia as a means of controlling the canine and feline population or decides to confine animals in shelters, the expenses are significant and could be avoided with unified policies, stricter laws, and a focus on prevention – primarily through sterilization – rather than exercising “downstream” management.

Illegal trafficking and stray animals also pose public health risks

Illegal trafficking and stray animals are also a public health issue. Trafficked puppies are increasingly younger, and there are rising cases of animals being sold without proper vaccinations or lacking rabies antibodies.

Consequently, we are seeing the return of diseases that had been under control for decades in some countries. This is posing a real risk to the health of trafficked animals, those already in our homes, and also humans, due to the spread of zoonoses, diseases transmitted from animals, including echinococcosis, giardia, and brucellosis.

All these issues are jeopardizing the One Health principle, which acknowledges the inextricable links between human health, animal health, and ecosystem health. This principle is officially recognized by the Italian Ministry of Health, all the international organizations, and the European Commission itself.

Adopting a unified policy for cats and dogs across the European Union would also unlock new funding opportunities

Finally, if there were a European regulation governing the breeding, sale and transport of dogs and cats, the prevention of stray animals, and organizing all related efforts, there would also be European public funds available for those developing projects in these sectors.

These funds could be used to implement extensive sterilization programs, raise awareness about responsible pet ownership, and increase educational initiatives in schools and disadvantaged communities, among others. This would be of great benefit to both people and animals.

Currently, these funds do not exist, and non-profit organizations are forced to rely solely on the generosity of their donors.

The call for candidates at the June 2024 European elections to protect the welfare of dogs and cats

For this reason, we at Save the Dogs have joined the Vote for Animals coalition to ask candidates standing in the 2024 European elections between June 6th and 9th to include the welfare of dogs and cats in their agendas.

Together with the main Italian associations, we have developed a 10-point program requesting, among other things, a European policy to tackle and prevent stray animals, the abandonment of dogs and cats, and the fight against puppy trafficking.

Over the coming months, we will update you on which candidates respond to our requests, so that we can be prepared for the early June elections.

And remember: it’s in our hands to decide who will occupy seats in the European Parliament. Don’t forget to vote!