Our response to DEFRA consultation

The Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) have, this weekend, announced plans to safeguard the welfare of imported puppies and dogs.

Owen Sharp, Chief Executive of Dogs Trust said: 

“We are delighted that today’s consultation could bring us one step closer to ending the abhorrent puppy smuggling trade. Over the last six years, Dogs Trust has spearheaded the campaign to crack down on puppy smuggling, after our first undercover investigation in 2014 exposed widespread abuse of the Pet Travel Scheme by unscrupulous dealers, bringing in puppies for sale.  

“Since setting up our Puppy Pilot in 2015 we have cared for more than 2,000 puppies which were seized at UK borders, often in horrendous conditions. We have seen puppies as young as four weeks old being smuggled into the country and dogs with open wounds from ear cropping as well as heavily pregnant dogs close to giving birth.  

“We are pleased that the consultation has set out proposals to tackle these issues and hope it results in tougher penalties for these crimes, as currently only a handful of cases have ever been prosecuted and the existing penalties are sadly no deterrent. We will continue to work closely with the Government to be the voice for dogs and put forward our recommendations to ensure the proposed legislation effects real change.”

Meet Berfa - the 1,500th puppy cared for through our Puppy Pilot scheme  

 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. The puppies were seized by the authorities at the Port of Dover, after being illegally transported into Great Britain from Eastern Europe before coming into the care of Dogs Trust via the Puppy Pilot. 

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. 

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. 

Heartbreakingly, within hours of coming into the safety of the quarantine facility, one of the puppies – Lady Longlegs the Dachshund - was vomiting and had severe diarrhoea. After being rushed to the vet, she was found to be suffering with the potentially deadly parvovirus. She sadly died within 48 hours of entering the country. 

Shockingly, over a period of three days a further two of the puppies worryingly began showing symptoms of parvovirus. Despite being rushed to the vet and receiving round the clock care, Alla and Arron also died. Shortly after, the black Labrador, Tara, was also found to be suffering from the highly contagious virus, she was hurried to the vet. 

 Luckily, Tara recovered and both she and Befa the Springer Spaniel are now being cared for and rehabilitated before we responsibly rehome them.  

All five puppies were likely going on to be sold to new homes in the UK to live with unsuspecting dog lovers. This demonstrates just one of the potential dangers of the illegal importation of puppies. Whilst there is no legal requirement to vaccinate against parvovirus for puppies and dogs coming into the UK from overseas, it is common practice that puppies should be vaccinated against the disease at an early age to try and give them a level of protection. 

Given the timeframe within which these poor puppies began showing symptoms and passed away, it is highly likely that this was 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, that coupled with 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 

People think they are getting a healthy, happy puppy but behind the curtain lurks the dark depths of the puppy smuggling trade. Many of these poor puppies, such as Alla, Lady Longlegs and Arron, suffer significant health conditions or lifelong behavioural challenges, and sadly some don’t survive, leaving their buyers helpless and heartbroken – as well as out of pocket.

Luckily, we were there to care for Tara and Befa but the charity fears for the puppies that slip through the net.

Befa also happens to be the 1,500th pup that has come through our Puppy Pilot.