Lucy’s Law will be passed into legislation in spring following a decade of tireless work by TV vet and animal welfare campaigner Marc Abraham.
The new law will ban pet shops and third party dealers from selling puppies and kittens.
Lucy’s Law means anyone looking to find a puppy or kitten will have to contact a licensed breeder or visit their local rescue centre.
Marc has juggled full-time work with the campaign having experienced first hand the tragic results of unethical breeding on some puppy farms.
Now a puppy or kitten can only be purchased if the mother is present. In doing so, Marc and his fellow campaigners hope to reduce health problems found in puppies, kittens, and their mothers.
We spoke to Marc about Lucy’s Law, how the campaign started, what motivated him to get involved, and when the government will pass the legislation.
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1) Can you explain the origins of Pup Aid and Lucy’s Law?
It all changed when one fateful night in 2009 when I saw a load of puppies coming into my Brighton emergency vet clinic with Parvovirus. It’s a disease very commonly found on puppy farms and large scale breeding operations with poor hygiene. We had seven cases in one night – it’s rare to get one a week. The puppies were all coming from the same licensed, legal dealer who was buying them in from a licensed, legal puppy farm in Wales. I thought it wasn’t right and I started to look into it. It was the beginning of the campaigning.
2) Did you have a background in campaigning?
As a vet I never had a background in history, law, politics or English literature. Those are the things you usually need to know about to go into politics. All I’d grown up knowing was how to draw caterpillars and release them into the wild, back onto the leaf you’d taken them from. But treating those parvo pups was the start of the campaign.
I was greatly helped by having a media profile as a TV vet because I was on Paul O’Grady Show BBC Breakfast, and This Morning.
This proved very useful when contacting celebrities or high profile people and you’re one of the vets on the television. They’re more likely to respond!
3) How did Pup Aid start?
I was invited to judge a lot of dog shows around the country every summer because I was a TV vet. It would never be championship level but more the fun charity shows all around the country. I loved it! I never had a dog growing up so I met loads on my travels and really got into how the companion dog world worked. I would go to the posh champion dog shows as well because I was writing for a pedigree dog breeders’ newspaper. I had my fingers in both pies.
I saw it was a really good way to bring people together. I found out about Puppy Mill Awareness Day in America so thought about doing starting something similar in England. That was in May 2009. In September 2009, I organised my first puppy farm awareness dog show. It wasn’t called Pup Aid yet but the World’s Biggest Puppy Party. It was at a venue in Brighton and I just about cobbled it together. We had a celebrity judge for the dog show Michael Watson, the boxer, who kindly judged best boxer dog. We also had Miss UK judge the prettiest bitch. It was fairly low key and I personally lost a fortune because I didn’t know what I was doing regarding event planning; but something special was born that day. The next year it moved to a different venue and it was called Pup Aid after Live Aid.
The original flyers were based on Live Aid. Instead of the headstock of the guitar going into Africa, it was the headstock of the guitar going into a chewy bone. When I was invited on the Alan Titchmarsh Show one day, Bob Geldof was also a guest. I took a load of flyers with me and showed him. It was the 20th anniversary of Live Aid. He asked had I been on the show with them and I said “No.”. He grabbed them out of my hand and went on the show with them. He held them up to the camera and said Live Aid had inspired Pup Aid. It was mental!
4) What role did celebrities play in helping to get Pup Aid momentum?
The calibre of live music and celeb judges was constantly going up but the same formula always applied – fun celeb-judged dog show with live music, vegan food, trade stands, and parade of rescued puppy farm dogs. We had two Pup Aids in Brighton then I moved it to Primrose Hill because Meg Mathews was our patron. The first year Ricky Gervais, Liam Gallagher, Sarah Harding and Nicole Appleton came, it was crazy. We were bringing an important animal welfare issue to the masses. We didn’t charge people for it. It was incredibly inclusive.
5) Why did you decide to rebrand the campaign ‘Lucy’s Law’?
There came a point when we needed something else. Caroline Lucas [Brighton Green Party politician] invited me to her house to discuss what dog would be best for her family. We decided on a rescue dog. She asked would I like to come to Westminster to discuss my campaign in 2013. We decided the best way forward was a government e-petition. It was quite a new thing back then. You had a year to get 100,000 signatures. I thought with my media contacts we could do it easily. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. We did it in six months.
In order to lobby MPs I took a break from vetting, andwent to Westminster every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I lobbied MPs constantly. We had an e-petition debate in the Main Chamber of the House of Commons. Every MP present voted for a ban on third-party sales. The government rejected it because they were being lobbied by the pet industry. The pet industry feared any ban on dogs being sold in pet shops because it might lead to a ban on all animals being sold in pet shops. Our campaign to ban third party sales was thrown out and I was very frustrated and sad for the dogs.
When I went to Westminster for the first time, it was like the scene in the Gladiator when the slaves walk into the Colosseum for the first time looking around them mesmerised. That was me in Westminster. We had a situation where we had a rejected petition, and then the government went on to reject a select committee recommendation to ban third party sales because they were being lobbied by some of the biggest charities in the UK. I learned a word I’d never heard of before – ‘disingenuous’. We weren’t even fighting puppy farms any more, but some the country’s biggest charities instead!
6) Who was inspiration for Lucy’s Law?
Lucy was owned by a lady called Lisa Garner. They used to come to Pup Aid and many of the charity dog shows. Lucy was one of the sweetest most delightful dogs I’ve ever met. She was rescued from a licensed puppy farm and her puppies sold by a third party dealer. She was crippled with arthritis, she had epilepsy, she had dry eye and separation anxiety. Lisa started attending high profile events and putting Lucy in the arms of celebrities. From Paul O’Grady to Brian May, she created a phenomenally popular Facebook page ‘Lucy the Rescue Cavalier’. It started to gain incredible numbers. It went to over 70,000 likes very quickly. It had support around the world. She did all these things, pictures, calendars, every day was a different story. It was so clever. Lucy sadly passed away in December 2016 after 3 years of freedom. She succumbed to all her illnesses. With the worldwide outpouring of grief that followed she was like a tiny Canine Lady Diana.
7) How did Lucy’s Law evolve into such a successful campaign?
We had a situation where we had a much-loved dog called Lucy and a campaign that was calling for the immediate banning of third party commercial puppy sales. It was a bit of a mouthful. So what do you do? I thought long and hard. My Dad worked in advertising and was an expert onbranding and creative. I just thought there was something in this. I thought the big mouthful could be simplified to Lucy’s Law in her honour. As an alliteration, a hashtag and the name of the potential new law, it was catchy. I spoke to Lisa about Lucy’s Law and asked her permission– her little Lucy could be the dog that changed the world. It was very emotional.
We had to keep it really quiet. We decided to launch the campaign exactly a year after Lucy’s passing, in December 2017. We invited people to an event in Westminster but couldn’t tell them exactly what they were coming for! The Daily Mirror became our media partner – a brilliant journalist called Andrew Penman dedicated a column every week to Lucy’s Law. Lucy Spraggan from X Factor was invited to sing and play her guitar in the Commons because she was another famous Lucy. We had MPs make speeches, Peter Egan spoke. All of a sudden, we unfurled these banners for Lucy’s Law. We had Lucy’s face everywhere and it just blew up. Everyone was scrambling to support it.
8) So what was the next step for Lucy’s Law?
On the 8th February 2018, the government announced a call of evidence, which is a three month public consultation. The Prime Minister even tweeted to announce it. There was even intent in her tweet. It wasn’t 50-50, should we or shouldn’’t we introduce Lucy’s Law, more suggesting the government actually wanted Lucy’s Law, as if they’d gone a little bit too far. At the same time, we launched another e-petition to show the government that Lucy’s Law was a really popular theme with the public. It fell over Mother’s Day during Crufts. We designed a giant 3 metre high Mother’s Day card with Lucy’s face in the middle. Claire Balding did a slot for Lucy’s Law just before Best In Showon primetime TV. We ended up collecting over 100,000 signatures in 13 days. It was one of the fastest animal welfare e-petitions of all time. We didn’t need to do it but it proved to be a useful sign of popularity. All the MPs were primed. They were briefed. They even had bright pink Lucy’s Law rosettes. We had celebrities tweeting about it. We had cross party support. the campaign became virtually impossible for the government to ignore.
A few months later I got an email out of the blue from No10 saying they needed my statement on a press release. I read the press release. It was minister Michael Gove paying tribute to the Lucy’s Law campaigners who had worked tirelessly to ban third party sales that the government now agreed with. That was in August 2018. We had a garden party in No10 with all the campaigners. We had a few celebrities. Michael Gove gave a speech and singled me out calling me a ‘force of nature’. I felt incredibly proud!
9) So where does Lucy’s Law stand right now?
There was another consultation launched in August 2018regarding the implementation of Lucy’s Law. It received a 95 per cent positive response so the government confirmed Lucy’s Law will happen in an announcement made on23 December 2018. Now we think Lucy’s Law will come in this May or June. It will become illegal to sell a puppy or kitten without its Mum being present in the place where it was born, hopefully making the biggest dent in puppy farming and smuggling the world has ever seen. It appears to be the most progress anyone has made anywhere in this issue. Wales look like they’ll be next. 20 out of 22 councils in Wales have already voted independently to pass Lucy’s Law. The other two just haven’t voted yet. Sadly Scotland are way behind, still refusing to support Lucy’s Law, and instead appearing to campaign against illegal dealers so worryingly keeping third party puppy dealing completely legal!
10) What do the public need to be aware of when buying a puppy?
The public need to know what they’re looking for. Always see the pup’s interaction with its Mum in the place the pup was born. If the Mum isn’t there, she’s probably on a puppy farm somewhere. It’s that simple in terms of first steps.
11) How did you balance 10 years of campaigning with full-time work?
I was working full-time for most of those ten years. The last year of the campaign, I was working three or four days a week – so part time. I still managed to visit Westminster over 300 times since 2013. I used every day off and more. You just have to do it. I was often working through the night too – as were my phenomenal team of campaigners, Linda, Sue, Julia, and Sarah.
We’ve even lost a campaigner during the process. The amazing Philippa Robinson died of cancer– she never even got to see it finished. My dad died three years ago, he didn’t see it finished either. Every member of the campaign suffered some degree of family loss or heartache during the campaign. We had all this other stuff to deal with. In some ways, it was a great distraction, but it was bloody hard for all of us.
12) How do you feel reflecting upon your achievement with Lucy’s Law?
Incredibly proud that a tiny group of grass roots like-minded campaigners have won a campaign for the dogs against all the odds – with Lucy’s little face we were able to successfully penetrate the apparent fortress of bureaucracy, vested interests, and money – just by prioritizing animal welfare, as well as sheer attrition and determination. There is always going to be work that needs to be done to improve animal welfare. Sadly you’ll also always have the naysayers who say there’ll be a fake mum, which doesn’t prevent the seller from being accountable; or someone will still act illegally, by default they’re saying there’s no point in having any laws at all! There will always be people who break the law. Some people say banning third party dealers will force puppy farming underground. It’s ludicrous. They can be smuggled underground but they must be advertised and sold ‘overground’ therefore completely visible and detectable. People are still rolling out the same fake arguments, so boring.
I had people who tried to derail me and through me off the scent. We had some nasty meetings. Really horrible stuff. The PupAid dog shows were all brilliant fun. I’ve become friends with Ricky Gervais, Brian May, Rachel Riley, and all these wonderful people. But in 10 years campaigning I’d say 95 per cent was awful and depressing. It was lonely. But I wouldn’t change it for the world, either. It’s an interesting story with a great ending.
Learn more about Marc the Vet in the first part of our in depth interview with the TV vet here.