6 lessons to be learnt from the death of Mr Chai

Image credits: Molly Mae Hague / instagram.com/mrchaibear

As a dog lover, owner and secret viewer of Love Island, I was devastated to read about the death of Molly Mae Hague and Tommy Fury’s puppy Mr Chai. A four month old Pomeranian, he was transported from Russia before arriving in the UK.

The news highlighted so many issues around puppy farming and responsible buying that I decided to collate some important lessons that we can all learn from his death.

Disclaimer: We believe in adopting over shopping, but this article is to provide better knowledge of Lucy’s Law & buyer awareness so focuses on the buying process. I hope you find this helpful, and feel free to share and add your comments at the end.

Image credits: Molly Mae Hague / instagram.com/mrchaibear

The details of Mr Chai’s death have been well documented in the news and both Molly Mae and Tommy have spoken candidly about him in a YouTube video.

Before his death, Molly Mae’s fans had questioned why the puppy was arriving from Russia, but as details surfaced it raised even more questions and both the couple and seller Elena Katerova have faced intense scrutiny.

After a fatal seizure, an autopsy revealed the puppy was incredibly unwell with multiple health problems and defects. Notably, his skull had not been formed entirely leaving his brain exposed and had no white cell count meaning he had little chance of survival.

I feel for Molly Mae and Tommy, like any dog lover they were excited to bring a puppy into their home and clearly doted on Mr Chai. But, they were naïve.

While well-intentioned, they had not done enough research into the buying process to notice the signs that Mr Chai may not have been bought in an ethical or responsible way.

His death has highlighted so many important issues around breeding, selling and buying puppies, and unfortunately cases like Mr Chai’s are not uncommon.

Puppy farming is rife as unscrupulous breeders and third party sellers take advantage of the rising demand.

They often house dogs purely for the purpose of breeding and mothers are often treated very poorly – used for litters until they can’t produce any more puppies then sold on or abandoned.

The terrible conditions, stress and impact of multiple pregnancies and birth can seriously affect the wellbeing of the mother. Many health conditions and defects in puppies are congenital, with the mother’s stress directly effecting their health.

However, the good news is Marc Abraham has been campaigning for years to put a stop to this and very recently the UK government passed Lucy’s Law which bans third party selling in the UK.

This means all puppies must now be bought directly from the breeder and the litter should be seen with mum.

Image Credit: Unsplash

Puppy farms now have to directly sell to buyers which will prove very problematic for them as they rely heavily on third party sellers.

If they were to sell directly to the average dog lover like me and you, we would be horrified by the terrible conditions, and we’d feel inclined to report them to the authorities.

Lucy’s Law relies heavily on buyer awareness.

I’t’s very recent landmark legislation so sharing this information with all dog owners and lovers is essential.

Unfortunately, it won’t stop some third party sellers from illegally selling but one of the most important ways we can contribute to reducing the amount of puppies sold in this way is to highlight warning signs and educate people in responsible buying.

Here you will find a list of lessons we can learn from the tragic death or Mr Chai.

While this is not a comprehensive guide to buying a puppy, it is a thorough read and highlights some key points and new information that may be missed by potential owners. You might want to pop the kettle on…

1. Always buy a puppy direct from the breeder & see the litter with the mother in their home

On 6th April 2020 the government introduced this landmark new legislation that bans the third party selling of puppies and kittens.

Lucy’s Law effectively cuts out the middle man and hopes to “tackle the low-welfare, high volume supply chain” of these pets.

You must now buy a puppy directly from the breeder – that is the person that has bred the puppies in their home – and they must hold a license to sell.

Note that it could be easy to mistake a seller with a breeder so always check that the person who is selling the puppies has also bred them in their own home. There is a role known called an ‘agent’ too which is not dissimilar to a seller.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Additionally, breeders are now required to show you the puppies or kittens interacting with the mother in their birthplace. You should always request to see the puppies in person so don’t accept any excuses.

I understand during this pandemic face to face contact is extremely difficult, but social distancing measures are being lifted gradually and you should start to be able to see the puppies from a safe distance.

Video calls may help you feel connected to your puppy, but you should always aim to see your puppy in person at least once before you collect.

Molly Mae and Tommy bought Mr Chai from Elena Katerova owner of Tiffany Pomeranians & Chihuahuas.

While she is a licensed breeder in Cheshire and has experience in breeding, she did not breed Mr Chai’s litter herself in the UK. He was born in Russia and transported over to the UK by Elena.

Elena has said she only works with trusted people and has a small network of reputable breeders who care for their dogs to the very highest standards.

However, Marc Abraham the founder of Lucy’s Law has reiterated you cannot sell a puppy without it having been seen with its mum in the place where it is born and is calling for an investigation.

Image credit: Tiffany Puppies / instagram.com/tiffany_puppies

Elena has argued that the puppies were seen with the mother via video but it is not always possible to spot the warning signs on camera and face to face visits are essential in witnessing the bond between mother and litter.

Handy tips for visiting a breeder:

  • Prepare questions in advance including when they’re getting their vaccinations, what brand of dog food they plan to wean the puppies on etc a responsible breeder will be expecting this and should be happy to answer. If they’re not forthcoming or are agitated then this should set alarm bells ringing.
  • Make sure you see the mother interacting with the litter as she should be protective over the puppies, stay close, lick them etc. You may be able to notice where she has been nursing (depending on what stage you see the puppies).
  • Look for signs of a dummy mother because if the real mother is being treated badly, in poor health or experiencing stress and trauma they may show you a dummy mum. She won’t show any connection to the litter, will be disinterested and keep her distance. A real mum would be protective with strangers around.
  • Take your time to observe their home but remember this is not about judging the size of the breeder’s house or possessions. Check the puppies pen looks relatively clean, well-kept and there’s plenty of toys and blankets. Observe how they treat other pets and trust your gut feeling if things don’t look or feel right.
  • Expect questions from the breeder too as these puppies are their babies and they will want to make sure they find the very best homes for them. If they show no interest in you and don’t ask basic questions about your working arrangements or whether your have a secure garden, it is a definite red flag.

So what do you do when you don’t have a good feeling, but you have fallen in love with a puppy? If you suspect any dog is being mistreated you must always report the person to the local authorities.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

2. Don’t buy a puppy from abroad unless you are rescuing a dog

Apart from being unwholly unnecessary, importing puppies from abroad puts their health and well-being at risk. Being separated from the mother and travelling a long distance in a small crate in unfamiliar surroundings can be stressful for any puppy.

The means of transportation could be unsafe and unhygienic or they could be exposed to other animals, infections and environments in transit that would potentially be harmful for a puppy with a developing immune system.

There has been a sharp rise in puppy farming abroad and the use of third party sellers in the UK importing them in. If you’re buying a puppy from a seller that tells you the puppy is coming from abroad you should not proceed with the sale as it may not comply with the law – report it to the local authorities so they can investigate.

The Mirror has recently revealed English breeders can act as ‘agents’ and arrange a sale abroad to import puppies without a licence, but Marc Abraham claims it is “unaccountable and there are issues around welfare”. To me, this makes it very difficult to tell if a seller or agent is working legally or illegally so if in doubt – report.

The government also advises you should know where your puppy was born and comes from, if they are infact found to be imported illegally you may have to pay for costly quarantine and veterinary bills.

Image Credit: Unsplash

Sellers may try to keep the location of the puppy from you, or even convince you the puppy is being born in this country in their home. Watch out of inconsistencies in their story, excuses as to why you can’t visit and other red flags.

Buying a puppy is not a quick online or phone purchase – it requires time, energy and face to face contact.

Some countries might have very responsible breeders but it’s always worth remembering they all have different laws on breeding and the standards may vary country to country.

By buying within the UK you’ll be less likely to be misled on the animal’s history, health or pedigree.

In some instances, people may import a dog into this country as they are an extremely rare breed not commonly found in the UK, but I personally believe the only time you should consider buying a puppy from abroad is if you are rescuing a dog in need.

If you have found a puppy in a dire situation – a street dog or puppy for sale in a pet shop – while on holiday and you feel compelled to provide a better future for them, get in contact with the local authorities, your embassy and plane carrier to see how and if you can get them home safely.

Image credit: ASPCA

Many rescue and welfare organisations specialise in rescuing dogs from abroad. Make sure you are going with a reputable company or charity like Soi Dogs that has experience in transporting and rehoming dogs.

The process will be different to rehoming in the UK, but always do your research, ask questions and trust your instincts.

Be aware there are fraudulent people that pretend to be part of a registered rescue organisation. They will charge you an excessive amount of money (under the guise of transportation costs) for a dog that may be seriously unwell or unfit to travel.

3. Don’t be influenced by celebrities or take their breeder recommendations

Molly Mae and Tommy have revealed a few friends and other minor celebrities had used Tiffany Pomeranians & Chihuahuas – all claiming everything with their dog was fine which is why they went with them.

Recommendations provide reassurance but they shouldn’t be your sole reason for going with a breeder – you must do your own research too. It’s vital you come to the conclusion yourself having compared, given time and thought to your decision.

Image credits: Molly Mae Hague & Laura Anderson

Since Mr Chai’s death, a handful of influencers and celebrities including Love Island’s Olivia Bowen have come forward to claim that a lot of unnamed breeders and sellers have offered puppies to them for free in return for social media mentions and exposure.

Because a celebrity or influencer has acquired their puppy from a certain place does not mean they have done their homework or any research into the buying process. Which is why celebrity endorsements of puppies can be misleading at best and dangerous at worst.

Below is a post from another Love Island star, Belle Hassan, who mentions an account with a very positive recommendation and call to action. This kind of endorsement encourages an audience to visit their page, but does not include any of the essential advice on picking a suitable breeder.

You would assume the puppy below was not gifted or part of a paid promotion as it doesn’t include the ASA required AD disclosure, but the Mirrror has recently revealed that “some breeders are targeting reality stars with huge social media followings to help plug their business in return for free or discounted dogs”.

Image credit: Belle Hassan

But, some celebrities are now coming forward to speak out against unscrupulous breeders, sellers and agents.

Love Islander Olivia Attwood has openly criticised breeders for offering her free puppies “as if they were a free pair shoes” and Olivia Bowen claims she refuses to tell followers which breeder her French Bulldogs came from.

The fellow Love Island star explained to her fans she understands that her influence in this instance would mean they would simply buy from the breeder without taking out their own important research or giving careful consideration to the purchase.

Image credits: Olivia Attwood & Olivia Bowen

Instagram and influencer marketing can be smoke and mirrors. Just because someone has a glossy social account with thousands of followers and mixes with celebrities doesn’t mean they are a responsible breeder. Likewise, a blue tick verification shows they are known but it is not a seal of approval for their services.

When it comes to breeding integrity is everything and honesty is key. Trust your instincts.

 

Unfortunately, Molly Mae and Tommy only went on recommendations from other celebrities and they found themselves in a heartbreaking situation, and have since admitted they would consider buying within the UK or rescuing a dog next time.

A good first point of call for anyone looking for a pedigree dog would be the Kennel Club where you can find a list of their registered breeders. But, if you’re looking for a new unregistered mixed breed such as a Cockapoo make sure you do a thorough online search and check various websites for credible sources of information.

Image Credit: Unsplash

Always check their feedback and reviews and speak to them over the phone to get a good feel for them. Ask to see their license, find out more about their experience in breeding and how many litters they have successfully bred. If you are buying a pedigree dog ask to see the mum and dad’s paperwork, and any health testing documents.

When looking to get a puppy I recommend that you personally visit a handful of breeders over time and choose the one that you feel instinctively most comfortable with. The process should take time and it’s not something that should be rushed.

Remember, Facebook has prohibited advertising of animals so be very weary of anyone advertising on this platform. Some may ‘subtly’ post lots of images of recent litters in online groups and pages in the hope they can attract a sale.

4. Research the breed and familiarise yourself with common health issues

When picking a breed of dog you need to make sure you understand their character and personality traits to make sure they will be the right fit for you and your family.

Consider how much exercise they need, whether they suit city or country living, enjoy being close or are more independent and aloof.

For example, some breeds are companion dogs they like to be close and require little exercise but if you work long hours and love hiking for miles at the weekend let’s face it you may suit a more active and independent breed. No matter how much you think you want your preferred choice.

See more of my thoughts on finding the right breed for you at The Telegraph.

Image credit: Anna Hoychuk/Shutterstock

It’s also incredibly important to read up on the breed’s common health issues. The more knowledge you have the better equipped you’ll be to notice any symptoms or problems that may occur when your puppy comes home and throughout its life. 

For example, a fellow Pug owner may be familiar with eye ulcers and how to spot when their dog has the start of an ulcer. In this instance, speed is of the essence and could save their eye.

Before I brought my pug home I read a whole textbook on pugs and was familiar with their health issues, and I’m certain my reading gave me the confidence to seek a second opinion when a vet mis-diagnosed his neurological condition.

Molly Mae and Tommy instinctively knew that something was wrong with Mr Chai when he developed a poorly tummy and become lethargic.

Unfortunately, his extensive list of health problems meant he had little chance of survival, but being aware of changes to your puppy’s behavior is key to detecting any issues and increasing their survival rate.

5. Keep a puppy fund & find a comprehensive insurance policy

Just because you’ve spent a small fortune on a puppy doesn’t mean there are any guarantees they won’t have health issues or defects. Even the most reputable breeders with years of experience may produce an unwell puppy.

It’s worth mentioning that sometimes these things can just happen and it’s not anyone’s fault. Molly Mae and Tommy have explained their puppy was extremely unwell and sadly he would of died regardless of whether he was transported to another country.

Image Credit: Unsplash

Molly Mae and Tommy likely had the funds to cover their vet bills and any care Mr Chai may have needed if he were still here today, but no matter how financially comfortable you are it’s always a shock to find out how expensive veterinary care can be.

It’s important to have savings to cover your puppy’s healthcare, a rainy day fund is essential as you never know what your puppy could get up to – it could have an undiagnosed illness, pick up a bug or be involved in an accident.

If you’re not financially in a position to cover regular or unexpected costs you should not be considering owning any pet. They are huge financial responsibility.

Keeping your dog healthy can be costly, especially if it is a pedigree dog that may be more prone to illnesses and conditions including allergies, skin irritations or ulcers. Veterinary bills soon add up and just think of it like private medical care – everything comes at a cost from consultations to medicines and procedures.

Image Credit: Unsplash

Shopping for a decent pet insurance should always be high on your priority list.

Look for a comprehensive policy that will cover your dog to a suitable amount, if they are a breed that could potentially need surgery in the future (e.g. dachshunds may need spinal work or pugs could need BOAS surgery) then it’s wise to go up to a cover of about £8,000-£10,000 annually.

Read the fine print for terms and conditions and clauses, and check whether they will continue to cover a long term condition.

Its also worth mentioning that breeders should have puppy insurance to cover their puppies while they are in their care, check with them when the policy ends so that your insurance cover starts at the right date and there’s no gap in cover.

 

6. Consider adopting a dog that needs a new home

As you’ve probably come to realise, buying a puppy can be a minefield.

I know all too well how even the most prepared, well read and cautious buyer can still find themselves with a very unwell puppy.

Our dog had a congenital spinal defect that required surgery costing £8,000. Luckily we had the insurance to cover it, he was given a new lease of life and although very wobbly, he lives a very happy and content life.

Puppies are beautiful and it’s so fulfilling seeing them grow. However, I would now personally choose to adopt over buying. There are so many dogs of all different breeds waiting for their forever homes and it really can be just as rewarding giving a dog a second chance at a happy home than it is seeing a puppy grow up.

Its always worth checking the Dogs Trust, Battersea Dogs Home and the Blue Cross for Pets to see what dogs they have available for rehoming. Many charities require you to register your details beforehand so its worth doing this, and letting them know what type of dog you are looking for.

If you would love a Pomeranian and they suddenly receive a Pomeranian you may stand a better chance of being contacted and given the chance to rehome them. Pedigree and smaller breeds are snapped up very quickly.

At this current moment in time most are closed for rehoming but register now and you’ll be notified as soon as they start rehoming again. In the meantime, you can donate to help them keep afloat during these unprecedented times.

Image credit: Blue Cross

If you have your heart set on a particular breed then commonly you can find charities and rescues that are breed specific. For example, the PDWRA specialise in rehoming pugs and Phoenix do a lot of good work rescuing French Bulldogs. There are often puppies and young dogs in their care so it’s always worth exploring the rescue route if you still have your heart set on a pup.

Image Credit: Unsplash

I hope you’ve found this helpful. I am genuinely devastated for Molly Mae and Tommy and applaud them for being so honest with their fans so that others can learn from it. I know it will take time for them to come to terms with the death of Mr Chai.

This article does not intend to shame anyone, but make sure something positive can come from his death – the more awareness of Lucy’s Law and responsible buying, the better. Anushka x

 

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