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17th May 2024

Animal welfare charities urge public not to attend new puppy yoga sessions

Tara Catlett

The Dublin-based event series has been at the centre of much criticism and controversy

Concerns have been raised regarding the way puppies are being obtained and cared for by the organisers of the new puppy yoga sessions in Dublin, following an undercover investigation conducted by the animal welfare organisation, My Lovely Horse Rescue (MLHR).

Puppies & Yoga (puppiesyogadublin on Instagram) held their first session in Dublin last weekend, despite criticism from animal welfare groups like Husky Rescue Ireland (HRI) and The Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (DSPCA), that featured in an Irish Independent article in late April.

Costing €44.90 per person, the Dublin-based sessions run for an hour, with the first half dedicated to yoga with a trained instructor, where the pups are allowed to roam around the participants, and the second half is reserved for what the organisation describes as “cuddling time” with the puppies. The location of each class varies and is only sent to ticket holders “a few days before the session”, according to the Puppiesyogadublin website.

The concept was launched in Paris in 2023 by French entrepreneur Henri Sagon, who has brought the event series to nine other European cities, including Amsterdam, Milan and Istanbul. In many of these cities, the events have drawn criticism and pushback from charities and animal rights activists. A petition was set up in the Netherlands in March to try and stop the puppy yoga sessions from taking place and garnered over 8,000 signatures. In one Dutch news article by Radar, yoga teacher Milou, who had given lessons at a Puppies & Yoga session in Amsterdam expressed concerns about the puppies’ wellbeing, even filing a police report after participating in the classes. “I filed a report,” Milou told Radar, “the police also came by, but they couldn’t do anything. Legally it seems to be allowed.”

Claims made on the Puppies & Yoga Instagram page about the origins and the “professional” breeding of the pups, were an initial concern for MLHR, an organisation that rescues and rehomes animals across Ireland. “That was the first red flag,” Sarah Brett, team volunteer at MLHR said, “as an organisation, we don’t agree with breeders at all. We do recognise that there are registered breeders in Ireland, so we’re not bashing them all.”

The main concern of MLHR is the alleged lack of background checks being conducted on the breeders before obtaining the puppies used in the events. This initiated them to go undercover and get in contact with Puppiesyogadublin pretending to be a breeder interested in supplying pups for their upcoming session. The Puppies & Yoga website states that breeders are “carefully” chosen before they are worked with. They say that they “verify the treatment conditions of the puppies in the breeding facilities” and ensure that the puppies are “properly vaccinated and weaned before participating”. However, Brett told us over the phone that it was “so easy to get them to agree to use us as breeders,” she added, “they didn’t offer to come out and check the facilities, didn’t ask about the mam of the pup. If you’re buying a pup you always need to check the condition of the mother.”

“Organisations like this…encourage breeders to supply puppies. Puppy yoga is trying to claim that these breeders are already breeding the puppies and they’re just gonna rent them. If this…gets more popular, what breeders are going to do is… get more females, breed more, in order to rent them out.”

Sarah Brett, team volunteer at MLHR

Furthermore, during a phone conversation, MLHR mentioned to Puppiesyogadublin that they had pups who looked about 8 weeks old but were actually between 5 and 6 weeks old, and they claim that the organisation confirmed that they would rent them regardless. We spoke to the Puppies and Yoga founder, Sagon, who denies claims that while undercover MLHR informed his company that the puppies in question were 5 weeks old. “They have zero proof, and they are saying a lot of lies.” Sagon said, “The puppies are obviously not 5 weeks old… no one ever wrote this.”

Any questions around the ages of the puppies are a serious concern for Brett, as she told us “technically, the puppies are not fully vaccinated until they’re 12 weeks old…you’re putting them in an environment with 20 people, 3 times a day…exposing them to all sorts of risks.”

When pressed on whether the puppies attending the event would have all their vaccines, Sagon told us that vaccination dates “depend on the breed”, and that in some cases one vaccine is enough. However, the Royal Veterinary College website, states that puppies should have their first vaccination at eight weeks old, except for certain situations where they may be vaccinated as young as six weeks. It also says all puppies must have a second set of vaccinations at 12 weeks that are “needed to boost their immune system”.

During their undercover investigation, Brett told us that vaccination records were not shared with the event organisers ahead of time, but Puppiesyogadublin did ask for them to be brought on the day of the session.

Speaking of her concerns about the event which uses predominately purebred puppies, Brett said, “it’s promoting this designer dog…it’s kind of promoting buying puppies as opposed to maybe rescue dogs that are not as visually appealing as a little, fluffy purebred puppy.”

In an industry estimated to be worth €187 million, according to a report from the European law firm, Fieldfisher, there is a “poor regulatory framework” imposed on dog breeding in Ireland. This lack of regulation has resulted in Irish breeders becoming a huge exporter of puppies to more tightly regulated countries, according to the report. Aside from animal welfare concerns, the report also identified widespread issues involved in the industry, which vary from tax avoidance, environmental concerns, fraudulent practices and the spread of diseases.

Brett explained alternatives to the Puppies & Yoga approach could be using rescue dogs in their sessions, or hosting yoga classes where you can bring your own dog. In response to this, Sagon claims to have contacted around 20 rescue charities, but none have answered, including, at the time of writing, MLHR. Their team had offered to rent rescue puppies from MLHR for their weekend session on the 11th and 12th. However, the email was sent after 9pm on the 10th of May, hours after MLHR had already posted to their Instagram highlighting the inconsistencies throughout Puppies & Yoga’s puppy renting processes.

“The bad press is always interesting. They’re doing this to get views, and clicks because I can see that their audience is declining” Sagon said, “We’re fully booked for 3 weeks in advance, it means that people absolutely love the concept.”

Sagon said that the criticism received from MLHR was unfair considering they had not attended any of the Dublin sessions, and couldn’t speak to the condition or the care of the puppies. Sagon said that the puppies had free will during the entire session. “If they sleep, they sleep. People are not allowed to wake them up, it’s part of the rules” he said. Other rules included attendees having to disinfect their hands on entrance, removing shoes, and not being allowed to stand up while holding the puppies.

Sagon appeared on the The Big Bark Dog podcast to speak about the backlash the company has received since the Dublin branch opened. During the episode, Sagon defended his company against the leaked emails, stating that their company has long conversations with breeders before renting to make sure the breeder is legally allowed to sell dogs and to “understand what their process is with the dogs”.

“They show you only what they want.” he said, referencing MLHR. “We ask all of this information, they only showed the two first emails…I’m not going to ask in the first interaction. I need to build a relationship with them…obviously with time I do checks with them before they come [sic].”

However, the phone call between the MLHR and Puppies & Yoga where they allegedly discussed renting puppies for the 10th and 11th of May took place only 2 days before the session.

Another red flag for MLHR was that they were offered payment for their pups in cash. Confronted with this on the podcast, Sagon said it is just more complicated to pay through bank transfer, but they were willing to do so if necessary. At the time of writing, there is no record of Puppies & Yoga or Sagon’s other company Kwenta set up on Revenue, however, Sagon told us that it’s currently in the process of being registered.

Following their investigation MLHR encouraged the public to not attend the Puppies & Yoga events, while also calling on the government to bolster dog breeding regulation in this country. A sentiment echoed by Andy Cullen, the founder of HRI, who told us “It’s not ethical, it’s greed, there is no transparency and there are no laws to exclude businesses that profit off of the ill treatment of animals. It’s apparent that the government don’t see this as an issue as we’ve not heard one thing about it from the Minister.”

Fitzpatrick explained that petitions have been set up by their followers, and emails have been sent condemning Puppiesyogadublin. He noted that Ireland is already in a dog crisis with very little funding, and many charities that help dogs heavily rely on public donations to continue doing their work.

At the time of writing the Puppies & Yoga event series is due to go ahead this weekend with a third event planned for the following weekend. Some time slots have already been sold out.

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