Arthritis, ear mites and rotten teeth: I adopted an ex-breeding dog and it was all worth it

ST correspondent Audrey Tan with Sophie on the day of adoption. ST PHOTO: AUDREY TAN
Sophie the toy poodle was used as a breeding dog. She had been de-barked and had multiple health issues. ST PHOTO: AUDREY TAN

SINGAPORE - About a month ago, I adopted a toy poodle from animal welfare group Voices for Animals, which rescues, rehabilitates and rehomes retired breeding dogs.

Sophie's microchip number shows that she had been imported from Taiwan, and in Singapore she was used as a breeding dog, producing litters that sold for thousands of dollars per pup.

Her offspring have probably gone to homes where they get lots of cuddles, exercise and a balanced diet.

But these were luxuries that Sophie knew nothing of.

She had been de-barked - tissue from her vocal cords had been removed - and she can now only rasp.

She also had a mouth full of rotten teeth, ear mites and arthritis in her hind legs, probably the result of a poor diet and life spent in a cage.

Despite her age - the veterinarian estimated that she is about seven or eight years old - Sophie had never seen a leash and was mystified by stairs.

She froze and trembled non-stop when I first put her on grass, so alien from the concrete floor that had been her bed to date.

Lack of documentation makes her medical history unclear.

She has caesarean scars, but I do not know how many litters she has had, and she had to be tested to see if she had all her shots.

Things are looking up for dogs like Sophie.

Major changes to licensing conditions for breeding dogs were announced by the National Parks Board's Animal and Veterinary Service on Friday (Oct 8).

The changes, which kick in next April, make it mandatory for breeders to give animals under their care opportunities for exercise, social interaction and enrichment at least once a day.

They must also keep documentary proof of vaccinations, annual health checks, veterinary treatments and any other surgical procedure.

Daily health checks are a must, and breeders can no longer breed dogs related to each other, or those with known harmful heritable conditions such as epilepsy, hip dysplasia and urinary bladder stones.

All breeding dogs can also produce only one litter every year. They must be retired once they turn six years old and sterilised within six months.

These revisions, in an industry which has long overlooked animal welfare here, are aligned with what is being done in countries such as Australia and Britain.

Crucially, breeders must ensure there is post-retirement care for retired breeding pets, either in continuing to care for them on the farm or rehoming them, a far cry from their current fate, which in many cases means death.

They stop short, however, from an outright ban on puppy mills - commercial breeding facilities infamous for intensively breeding puppies in inhumane conditions.

These changes have been a long time coming.

Animal welfare groups here have for years called on the authorities to impose stricter measures on businesses that exploit animals for profit.

But at least breeders will now be forced to come up with a retirement plan for their animals.

The latest changes reinforce the message that pets are not commodities to be used and discarded.

Asked if the new measures will cause the price of puppies to go up, AVS said increments, if any, will be related to sterilisation costs and licensing fees.

But those looking to buy a pet need to realise that the true cost of that doggie in the window goes beyond just dollars and cents. Behind that happy pup could be a miserable, neglected parent.

Ask anybody who has adopted a former breeding pet, and they will tell you that despite the high treatment costs to make up for years of neglect, the rewards for doing so are priceless.

After about a month or so of short walks and a healthy diet, Sophie is now a dog transformed. ST PHOTO: AUDREY TAN

Today, after about a month or so of short walks twice daily and a diet of boiled meat and vegetables, Sophie's hind legs are strong enough to allow her to stand on two legs to ask for my affection or treats.

She can also climb up and down flights of stairs with ease, often marking the last step with a little hop.

Sophie is a dog transformed. To me, that is priceless.

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