“A German Shepherd needs more space than a horse”: “small” animal breeders worried about new Walloon rules

In Wallonia, new conditions in dog and cat farms will be reinforced from 1 March 2023 to put an end to “puppy mills”. Changes that are not easy to implement for some Walloon breeders. Hélène, a breeder of Bernese Mountain Dogs in Anhée, is far from convinced by certain standards. According to her, Animal Welfare Minister Céline Tellier is in favor of large structures. The latter defends himself.

Bernese mountain dog breeder for 7 years in the province of Namur, Hélène (assumed first name) is very upset after the announcement of new standards in dog and cat breeding. At the end of November, the Walloon government had finally adopted the decree on the conditions for the approval of companies for animals, which in particular signaled the end, from March 1, 2023, of “puppy mills”.

“We are outraged by what is happening to livestock farming. The measures taken for animal welfare will not improve the living conditions for us. 14,000 breeders were not consulted”assures Hélène. “After a petition, we were heard. It came out that there was a need for further consultation, but Mrs. Tellier said no. The law was passed as it is. Small farms will take the headache out of it, because you can’t push the walls. Surfaces for breeding makes no sense in family use, as the dogs are often in the houses.”

Owner of more than ten Bernese Mountain Dogs, Hélène explains that in her small structure, “It is not reproduction at any cost”. “Even when I had the opportunity to make 10 litters last year, I made 5. It is first and foremost the well-being of the animals at home. They are not profit animals. They are companion dogs, not just breeders.she points out.

End of “puppy mills”: what will change?

  • The minimum standards for accommodation will be revised upwards: the minimum areas for dogs and cats will double. Unless there is a veterinary contraindication, the animals cannot be kept alone at all times and must be able to benefit from the presence of another animal.
  • Training will be mandatory for facility managers or at least one of their employees. This obligation will enter into force on 1 January 2026 to allow institutions to adapt.
  • The information available to buyers will be strengthened. The companies must provide them with a range of information about the animal’s needs in particular and its special conditions.
  • The use of foster families (especially for kittens) will be framed with a model agreement.
  • The contract veterinarian will see his role strengthened.
  • With regard to handling dog or cat breeding, the number of litters per she will be reduced and the minimum and maximum ages for gestation periods will be established. The time allocated to the care and socialization of dogs and cats will be increased.
  • Dog or cat breeders will be able to breed a maximum of two different breeds.
  • The status of breeder-dealer will be abolished. From 1 July 2023, it is prohibited to import puppies for sale.

But what does Hélène condemn in the new conditions that must be respected? First, she doesn’t understand why she has to take compulsory education.

“If I’m going to train, I’ll have to learn reproduction of birds, snakes, whereas I just want to breed Bernese Mountain Dogs. I can tell you that after 7 years of breeding, I learned things from them… And we’re already trained on the base, but it is an education that is not recognized by the Region. We had training with nutritionists, veterinarians in reproduction. And we were confronted with the experience “she says.

The minimum standards for accommodation will therefore be increased. This will favor large structures. They are the only ones who will have the means to bring themselves up to standard and continue to practice. A small farm does not make much money. pif I need more square meters to be able to keep them, I can’t push the walls”, she states. To keep a Bernese Mountain Dog you need 12m² (for one or two dogs) + 6m² (per additional dog). For me it is not a problem at the moment. But it’s not just about us, it’s all breeders together.”

Hélène also understood that in this law if she buys “A dog that is normally for breeding, but not suitable, it is mandatory to go through a shelter. I can no longer place him in a family myself. I have to go and put him in a cage, he never has known. With people who know nothing about breeding.”

She concludes: “We already did a good job. No one was really consulted. We work with reproductive specialists and these people were not consulted because it was still important. One race is not the other. We are set standards of madness. We would have been able like to allow vets to say that such a dog is fit for reproduction.”

> ALSO READ: “We may find it easier to find them a new home”: In Wallonia, it would soon be the end of animal factories

Walloon family breeders are desperate

For its part, the Federation of Breeders of Belgium welcomes the announcement of the end of “puppy mills” but opposes several new standards. Disputes originate from certain refuges, pensions and family breeders. Here are the most important ones.

“Why are we reacting to this new law? Because the minister is putting Walloon family breeders, puppy mills, recognized giga sheds, foster homes, small shelters, dogs and cats, etc. in the same bag.” assesses Chantal Devos, the federal spokesperson. “Tomorrow, many small Walloon breeders will stop their breeding, but the traffic of dogs from abroad will continue. Because buyers will not find enough puppies and kittens in Wallonia, and they will try by all means to get the companion they want. A click on the internet and your puppy or kitten is ordered in Flanders or abroad and in a completely legal way.”

The ASBL adds that “the Walloon family” breeders are “desperate” at the “insane” surfaces imposed on their breeding. “In Wallonia, your German Shepherd needs more space than your horse! The animals from these small breeders live freely with them in their house, run in their garden, share their life and often their sofa or their bed. These breeders will not all have possibility to expand their home or move to comply with these new measures. Only the “puppy mills” have the necessary surfaces, in large sheds, where the dogs live their whole lives in cages, seeing the outside every other day.”

The association also jumped by reading another point in the law, which relates to older animals. “Madam Minister also suggests that breeders who keep their old animals place them in a shelter. This idea revolts family breeders who do not abandon their beloved companions because they are old, but find themselves with too little space to keep them all. It’s real. torture for them,” condemns Chantal Devos.

She also believes that family breeders were not consulted. “Thousands of them in Wallonia breed quality dogs and cats, whose health and socialization they guarantee, and which they often deprive themselves of the essentials so much that they love them. They were only informed at the last minute about the minister’s project, and on despite that. a petition and an intervention in the Folketing, has not been able to be heard. In conclusion, Minister Tellier misses his goal by crushing small structures in favor of larger ones and forgetting that the work with animal welfare is first and foremost to be done. everything possible to avoid them going to a shelter.”

Minister Céline Tellier wants to reassure the breeders

The Minister for Animal Welfare, whom we contacted, wanted to answer the various criticisms from breeders by addressing various points.

“I want to reassure the breeders you have met. Under no circumstances do I put all players in the sector ‘in the same bag’ to use one of their words. With this new legislation, my aim is to prevent practices that do not respect animal welfare from damaging the reputation of the entire sector This new decree formalizes practices for operators who respect their animals, such as limiting their breeding to two breeds in order to offer their customers expertise in the field and quality service.

With regard to minimum surfaces that must be respected, says Céline Tellier “Welcome and encourage breeders who offer their animals the opportunity to run and let off steam in the open air. These already benefit in advance from much larger areas than those defined in this new decree. Offer, for example, a living space with 1 m² for a chihuahua is not acceptable, which is why the new legislation has set the necessary area for this type of breeding at 4 m²/per animal..”

The Minister for Animal Welfare declares that a aspect of this new legislation has been misunderstood by some breeders. “Of course, breeders will be able to keep their ‘retired’ animals – nothing prevents this, and it is a legitimate desire. The text encourages breeders to anticipate the retirement of their breeding animals, which they can either keep or place in refuges. You hope that my illumination will be of a nature to reassure them on this subject.”

Finally, about the consultation, Céline Tellier defends herself:

“The Walloon Council for Animal Welfare was of course consulted on this text. It consists in particular of Comeos and the Société Royale St Hubert, which represents the pet breeding and trade sector. I invite breeders who wish to pass on their concerns to engage in dialogue with the Walloon council for animal welfare on this subject.

She concludes: “The welfare of the animals is at the center of my concerns. Measures such as the extension of the animals’ living quarters or the anticipation of their retirement seem to me to be able to significantly improve the welfare of our pets.”

Support systems will be established to accompany the structures affected by these new standards. A transitional period of five years will allow companies approved on the date of entry into force of the decree to adapt their infrastructure. For shelters, this period is extended to ten years due to their non-profit activity.

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