Almost a third of puppy purchasers would be willing to ‘turn a blind eye’ to cruel smuggling trade to get the dog they want, according to Dogs Trust

Every year thousands of puppies are smuggled across Central and Eastern Europe to be mis-sold to UK dog lovers. Many suffer significant health problems and/or lifelong behavioural challenges as a result, and some may not survive.

Today (Tuesday 8th December), Dogs Trust has released alarming new research to highlight the scale of the problem and call for urgent Government action to:

  • Raise the minimum age for puppies to enter the UK to six months
  • Increase penalties for smugglers

Worryingly, despite Dogs Trust highlighting this issue for over six years, Government is yet to take any significant action.

Dogs Trust’s consumer research polled 2,000 people in the UK who had either bought a puppy or are looking to buy one in the future. In addition to 30% of people admitting that they would be willing to buy a puppy even if they thought it might have been illegally smuggled into the country, 44% said they would be willing to buy a puppy from an online advert despite:

  • 41% saying they knew someone who had a bad experience or had been scammed
  • 60% saying they were concerned that it is easier to be scammed since the pandemic

This demand has created the perfect storm for criminals looking to cash in, as the pandemic has seen interest in dogs soar, which has in turn significantly increased puppy prices. Between March and the end of November, Dogs Trust rescued 257 puppies illegally imported into the country from abroad, as well as 16 heavily pregnant mums who have gone on to give birth to an additional 61 puppies. These alone were worth over £570,000.

A new report ‘Puppy Smuggling: Puppies still paying as Government delays’, which has been sent to MPs today, looked at adverts for dogs on four of the largest classified websites. Of 502 ads examined over six weeks in England and Scotland, 91 pups were found to be imported (18%). Sixteen of these were too young to have been brought in legally, and Dogs Trust believes that was the case for many others too.

The youngest was just seven weeks when it entered Great Britain, too young to even leave its mum. To legally travel to Great Britain from countries within the EU, a puppy must be a minimum of 15 weeks old.(1)

Dogs Trust Veterinary Director Paula Boyden said:

"For more than six years Dogs Trust has been exposing the abuses of pet travel legislation by puppy smugglers, but our concerns have so far gone unanswered.

"The findings of our latest research demonstrate that it’s more important than ever that the Government takes action to stop the suffering of puppies at the hands of cruel traders. Pups continue to pay for every day of Government delay.

"With the end of the Brexit transition period fast approaching, we are calling on the Government to urgently raise the minimum age for puppies to be imported into the UK to six months to help make them less desirable. We also want to see tougher penalties for smugglers, as only a handful of cases have ever led to a prosecution.

"We want people to understand that buying an illegally imported puppy has huge implications for both the pups - who have to travel miles across borders in awful conditions - and the mums who are basically breeding machines.

"Too many would-be dog owners simply do not pay attention where their puppy comes from, and this must stop.

"We’re urging people to be patient, do their research and take measures not to buy into this cruel industry which results in horrendous suffering to the dogs involved."

Dogs Trust has highlighted some of the dangers of puppy smuggling in a new animation, ‘A Christmas Tale’. It shows the journey of a puppy who has been bought online, to be delivered in time for Christmas, but all is not as it seems. The underaged puppy has in fact been smuggled into the country, his mum left behind to continue a cruel life as a breeding machine. To watch ‘A Christmas Tale’ visit www.dogstrust.org.uk/changethetale

1. 311 adverts in England and 191 adverts were looked at in Scotland (502) on Gumtree, Freeads, Pets 4 Homes and Preloved. 78 in England and 13 in Scotland (91) were confirmed to be for imported dogs after a researcher responded to the ads via telephone and email and asked a series of questions. The investigators recorded any signs of the attempted sale being rushed, and any other suspicious conversation or behaviour. Where necessary, if all the signs suggested that the puppy had been imported but this had not been stated, the investigator asked the question directly. A further 138 adverts were looked at in Wales (640) but none of these were confirmed to be for imported dogs. The research was carried out in Great Britain only (not Northern Ireland). Research took place September-November this year.
2. Currently the puppy receives the rabies vaccine at a minimum of 12 weeks, followed by a 21 day wait period after the vaccination date, and is allowed to travel into Great Britain at 15 weeks old. Dogs Trust supports reintroducing a requirement for a rabies blood (titre) test before entry, together with a wait period post-vaccination which is in line with the incubation period of rabies. This means that the age at which puppies could legally enter the UK would be increased to six months.