Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 30 March 2022

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Regulations and Verification Systems of Online Sales of Pets: Discussion

Mr. Paul Savage:

It is my pleasure and honour to be here today to speak with members of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine on the topic of the post-enactment scrutiny of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 and the subsequent Microchipping of Dogs Regulations, MODR, 2015, and the Animal Health and Welfare (Sale or Supply of Pet Animals) Regulations 2019 with regards to activities around regulations and verification systems of online sales of pets, specifically pet dogs.

I am the founder of Dogs.ie, an online classified ads marketplace. We specialise in listings for dogs for sale and dogs for stud. Dogs.ie has been online since 2008 and was set up to cater for the Irish people’s great love of pet dogs. It is estimated that our island is home to over 450,000 pet dogs, while there are also nine native Irish breeds of dogs that are recognised around the world for their beauty and excellent character. Dogs rank as the number one pet in Irish households.

Since our foundation, the way Irish people have looked for pet dogs has undergone fundamental changes, including advertising moving primarily online. Meanwhile, more recently, pet ownership numbers have also increased substantially since the Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020. Last month, February 2022, approximately 2,000 dogs and puppies were listed for sale on our site. These advertisements are from private individuals, registered sellers of pets and registered breeding establishments. Approximately 250,000 people visit our site each month. They are generally looking to get general information on owning a dog, find a new pet dog, sell their dog or find a new sire or dam for their next litter.

In order to sell on our platform, all advertisements for dogs for sale are required to contain certain information, as per the Animal Health and Welfare (Sale or Supply of Pet Animals) Regulations 2019. This includes the date of birth, country of birth and microchip number, which has to be registered with one of the four approved dog identification databases, namely, Animark, Fido, the Irish Kennel Club and MicroDogID. Advertisements must also include any relevant registrations or licence number, such as a registered seller ID from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine or a registered breeding establishment licence number from one of the 31 local authorities.

At Dogs.ie, we pride ourselves in bringing a high level of trust and transparency to online pet sales. We have some additional systems and rules that go beyond the legal requirement. For example, all users are verified by SMS and only one phone number can be linked to a single account. While it is possible to import dogs with cropped ears or doges that have been declawed, we do not accept these ads. Puppies have to be at least seven weeks old before they can be advertised for sale on our site. We limit certain payment methods from being used, such as virtual and prepaid credit cards and one-time credit card numbers. For registered breeding establishments, we also include the number of breeding bitches included on their licence, helping to share the scale of these operations.

Beyond these measures, since 2020, we have been working closely together with Fido on ways to provide more transparency and trust in the information presented in our ads. This work is largely based on a publication from Four Paws, entitled the Model Solution. Four Paws is a global animal welfare organisation based in Austria. One of its initiatives is to ensure that the owner of the dog is actually the person selling the dog, and that the details match the information contained on the microchip certificate. This is where the Europetnet’s Veripet system comes into play. It works as follows. Users enter the microchip number of the dog they would like to sell. They also add in a unique owner PIN that is printed on each certificate. The Europetnet’s Veripetsystem checks to see if the details match and if they do, it then sends the user a one-time passcode to the registered email address or phone number on the certificate in order to confirm ownership. The Veripet system can also send back information about the dog. Currently, we use this system to collect data on the sex of the dog, which avoids microchips being used for other dogs. Finally, the Veripet system also provides a verification link for potential buyers to see certain information about the dog. This link is added into the advertisement automatically and goes to the identification and registration database. It should be noted, in relation to data protection and information about a dog, that its breed, date of birth, sex and colouring, are not relevant in a GDPR setting. Since September 2021, when we launched this, over 5,000 of these verifications have been done. This is approximately 35% of the dogs listed for sale.

On our site, we have three types of sellers, private individual sellers, registered sellers and registered breeding establishments. Private individual sellers are people who sell fewer than six dogs a year. Registered sellers are people who are registered with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. They sell six or more dogs per calendar year, but have fewer than six breeding bitches. Their registered seller ID is included in the ad. There are approximately 1,400 individuals, charities and businesses currently registered with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and over 950 of them have an account with Dogs.ie. Registered breeding establishments are those that are licensed by their local authority and have six or more breeding bitches. Their number if the registered breeding establishment and the maximum number of breeding bitches as per the breeding establishment's licence are s included in the ad. There are approximately 120 registered breeding establishments in Ireland, approximately 80 of which have an account with Dogs.ie.

We also offer a free dog buying contract template to make sure all the right information is captured and exchanged when a dog is sold. Trust, safety and transparency are paramount to us at Dogs.ie. We want to make selling and buying dogs online safer for everyone. Helping sellers to stay in compliance with their legal obligations is a critical component of this. Each ad is carefully reviewed before being published on our platform. Furthermore, we believe strongly in helping our pet rescues and charities around the country. To assist in the fantastic work these organisations do, we offer support for rehoming charities, providing free accounts for them to advertise dogs for which they need assistance finding new homes. With one in four households in Ireland estimated to be owners of dogs, we believe we can play a small role in helping the people of this island with their pets.