About puppy smuggling
For over six years, we’ve investigated puppy smuggling and seen how the cruel trade has developed and grown.
Puppy smuggling is an illegal practice whereby puppies, generally under the legal minimum of 15 weeks of age, are brought into Great Britain for sale via the Pet Travel Scheme. The scheme is intended for pet owners taking their dogs on holiday, but unscrupulous breeders have found ways to exploit it.
Some of these pups have no paperwork, or have falsified documents, and often haven't received the necessary treatments, including rabies vaccination. These poor dogs are forced to travel for long journeys in squalid, cramped conditions with no toilet breaks, no food and insufficient water, so they can be sold to unsuspecting buyers.
Our initial undercover investigation in 2014 revealed the high level of corruption at the heart of the puppy smuggling trade and the very worrying welfare risks being imposed on dogs.
Since then, our investigations have been ongoing, focusing on puppies travelling into Great Britain under the Pet Travel Scheme. In 2012 the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) rules were changed, resulting in the relaxation of the UK’s pet passport rules. Now puppies as young as 15 weeks can travel to the UK, whereas previously the minimum age was ten months.
Unfortunately, these changes have resulted in a sharp increase in the numbers of puppies entering Great Britain for sale – these poor dogs are often forced to travel thousands of miles in cramped, squalid conditions.
The puppies that were seized at the border and went into quarantine primarily came from Hungary (16%), Poland (12%), Romania (10%) and Slovakia (5%). Our investigations found dealers and vets in these source countries willing to falsify documents stating that puppies were older than they were.
Another disturbing and increasing trend is heavily pregnant dogs being transported illegally into the country in the late stages of pregnancy, causing significant suffering and health implications to both mum and puppies. This tactic allows criminals to give the impression of being legitimate breeders and avoid being reported to Trading Standards, as transporting one dog attracts less suspicion at the border, and responsible buyers will ask to see the puppies with their mother.
Befa’s story – the 1,500th puppy cared for by our Puppy Pilot
In January 2021, we rescued one Dachshund, two Labrador and two Springer Spaniel puppies who were all found hidden in a small cat carrier in the back of a van.
All five puppies were no older than five weeks old when they were rescued – well under the minimum 15 weeks that puppies must be to legally be imported into the UK. The spaniels weighed around 2kg and the Labradors around 3.7kg.
Before they were intercepted, the puppies had been transported thousands of miles across Europe from Slovakia and were due to be delivered to homes in the UK.
Heartbreakingly, three of them became seriously ill and despite being rushed to the vet and receiving round the clock care, they all died within days of coming into the country.
Given the timeframe, from when they started showing symptoms and to when they passed away, it is highly likely their deaths were a result of the poor welfare backgrounds they came from before entering the country. Many puppies are bred in appallingly unhygienic conditions in puppy farms overseas. An incredibly stressful journey, mixing with other puppies, potentially being unvaccinated, poor breeding practices and their young age is a recipe that leaves imported puppies exposed and vulnerable to potentially fatal disease.
Tara, a black Labrador, and Befa, a Springer Spaniel, thankfully both survived their ordeal. They’re now being cared for and rehabilitated before we can find them new homes.