An end to cruel puppy farming is finally in sight after years of tireless effort by the Mirror and campaigners led by vet Marc Abraham.
When Lucy’s Law comes into force on April 6 it will be illegal for commercial dealers to sell puppies and kittens unless they have bred the animals themselves.
Now in his new book, Lucy’s Law, Marc tells the story of the brave little dog who inspired the campaign...
She was a small Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who, like thousands of others, had never been given a name. Why would she have been? It’s not as if anyone was going to call her in for her dinner or surprise her with a new squeaky toy.
This Cavalier was a tricolour: black, tan and white, with some brown spots around her nose to vaguely distinguish her from the others. She was smaller than most Cavaliers of her age.
Home was a dark corner of a barn in Wales. This breeding facility had very few, if any, significant windows to let in light. Darkness was the norm here, as was the overpowering smell.
The stench of ammonia from decomposing straw mixed with the thick, tar-like sludge of faeces and urine was overpowering, and such an irritant that the dogs’ eyes streamed constantly.
A dog’s sense of smell has been estimated to be tens of thousands of times more acute than ours and this smell was all this dog had ever known.
Even though it was not uncommon for there to be another 200 female dogs in a building like this one, all confined to tiny pens literally yards from one another, there was a deathly silence.
The dogs could not see or engage with each other. The only noise they could hear was the rustling of straw, the occasional litter of puppies crying out for their mother’s milk and perhaps a random bark from a dog that thought they had heard a human coming.
Almost too weak to stand on her wet straw bed, this Cavalier had no toys or blankets, no decent food or treats, no access to clean water and no option to go outside to the toilet, or for exercise, or even to play with another adult dog – let alone a human being.
In the high-walled pens that surrounded her, rows and rows of females were all in various stages of pregnancy.
But not our Cavalier. It was unlikely that she had nursed a litter for over six months. Her outlook was grim, her infertility having rendered her worthless to the puppy farmer.
Still, she was one of the lucky ones. Instead of falling victim to the farmer’s gun, or the rope around her neck, or the bucket of water to be drowned in, she was thrown a lifeline.
A rescue centre alerted to her plight took her and other dogs into their care.
For the first time in their awful lives, these rescued dogs were given a name, often experienced their first veterinary treatment and were rehabilitated so they had the chance to start a new life away from pain
But, poorly treated as she was, devoid of any interaction with humans or other dogs, institutionalised her entire life, it was no surprise that our exhausted little Cavalier left the puppy farm ill-equipped to even know how to be a dog.
Fortunately for her, this was all about to change. Her rescuer immediately saw how thin and frightened she looked but named her Halo because she thought she was like a little angel.
In fact, Halo was so skinny and emotionally broken that her rescuer did not think she would live longer than a couple of months.
But, thankfully, little Halo thrived. When she was first placed in a foster home, her spine was so rounded that when she stood up, all hunched over, the paws on her skinny back legs almost touched her tiny front paws.
But she was starting to trust humans and was becoming gentle and affectionate, starting to show most of the characteristics for which this charming breed is famed.
Her foster carer sought to address her spinal problem immediately, organising a local vet to visit every week to give acupuncture and physiotherapy.
Painfully thin, Halo began cautiously picking at tiny amounts of food – an appetite not uncommon for a just-rescued breeding dog – and she was still itching and scratching and looking rather ear-bitten, most likely still suffering from the effects of mange.
As Halo’s spine continued to loosen up, straighten and appear less painful, so her appetite and general health improved too. And after a few months she was ready to be adopted.
In came Lisa Garner, who remembers seeing Halo for the first time as if it was only yesterday. It was not long before Halo was happily curled up on Lisa’s lap, already on the way back to her home in the West Midlands.
Clutching Halo tightly in her arms, Lisa looked back at the whirlwind of the past few weeks. She had never expected to see such a popular and unique breed as the Cavalier, and so many others, up for adoption on a rescue shelter’s website.
All this had started with that urge to send warm clothes and stop little Halo feeling the cold. Lisa had just wanted to use her online pet boutique to help a little dog in need.
On Tuesday March 12, 2013, Halo’s paperwork was finally completed and her new life began. Lisa thought Halo’s fresh new start deserved a fresh new name – so Halo became Lucy.
Lucy loved treats. The more the merrier. Using the tastiest, most nutritious treats over the following months, Lisa was able to help Lucy shake off some of her anxieties.
Soon she realised normal life was not the scary day-to-day mixture of boredom, hunger and solitary confinement, interspersed with horrible episodes of abuse and mistreatment, which had sadly become her norm.
Lucy was experiencing love for the first time in her life. She was safe and able to sleep deeply – at the same time perfecting the art of snoring loudly.
Lisa vowed that from now on she would only adopt the most vulnerable dogs – those who were disabled or rescued from puppy farms, or both.
In September 2013, just six months after Lucy was adopted, the “Lucy the Rescue Cavalier” page went live on Facebook ...and no one could have predicted what an enormous impression it would eventually have on the world and on the future of dog welfare.
Lucy was a heroine, a survivor, evidence of an abusive system that was failing the UK’s dogs.
She was now the poster girl for victims of the puppy farm trade.
But one day, some years later, she started having difficulty breathing. Lucy’s appetite had long been good, especially when it came to cake, and she had experienced no obvious problems with her breathing previously.
In fact, her heart was actually quite strong considering she had battled to stay alive since the moment she was born in that horrific farm.
But now she began to show the toll of the years of exploitation, kept cooped up in the dark in that cramped space, giving birth to litter after litter and then cruelly separated from the pups nature intended her to nurture, which were torn away and then transported hundreds of miles by greedy, heartless dealers.
The debilitating epilepsy, the arthritis , the dry-eye, the anxiety in all its many forms... Lucy’s body was shutting down quickly now, her frail organs just too tired to carry on.
Lisa was heartbroken but accepted that Lucy had been given the very best chance and that it was now time to say goodbye. And the heart of one of the bravest dogs this world has ever known had stopped beating for ever.
It was early 2017, and we were all at our lowest ebb, really at rock bottom.
Our campaign had been blocked and we had been told by government officials that it would be at least five years until this subject could even be discussed again. It was an extremely tough time for all of us trying desperately to fight this fight.
We already had an army: over 70,000 of Lucy’s followers who were all upset, mourning and angry at the injustice of puppy farming and the third-party dealing that caused thousands of dogs like Lucy to suffer.
Surely by personalising our campaign, and naming it after Lucy in her honour, we could harness that emotion and move forward.
Our Lucy’s Law launch in Westminster was one of the most incredible and emotional experiences of my life.
After almost eight years’ campaigning, our little group revealed a crusade with so much potential that MPs, fellow animal lovers and the majority of charities were only too proud to get behind it.
That evening, in this beautiful venue overlooking the Thames, we knew something had shifted.
Little Lucy had brought fresh hope to the campaign to ban cruel puppy dealers – a hope that felt like it could, in fact, change the world for ever.