Smuggled beagle puppy being checked after being seized at port (Image: RSPCA )
The RSPCA says greater border security could thwart smugglers trafficking thousands of puppies into the UK every year – many too young and sick to be sold legally to families. Ruthless gangs are exploiting the Pet Passport rules to bring in huge consignments of puppies from EU partners to be sold under the guise of being “home-bred family pets”. In reality, many have been bred on hell-hole puppy farms in Eastern Europe then drugged so they can be slipped into the UK, often with bogus paper work.
As MPs this week discussed the growing cancer of puppy smuggling during a Westminster debate, the RSPCA is highlighting how the huge demand for fashionable breeds and designer dogs is driving the illegal trafficking of puppies into the UK.
While the charity has been campaigning heavily against unscrupulous breeders with its Scrap the Puppy Trade campaign over the past four years, it now sees Brexit as an opportunity to increase the pressure on the criminal networks.
RSPCA assistant director of external affairs David Bowles, said: “We’ve welcomed moves by the Government to tackle the puppy trade, including the introduction of new licensing legislation in October and a pledge to ban third party sales from 2020, but we believe that more needs to be done to tackle the illegal smuggling of puppies from abroad.
“We believe that Brexit provides us with an opportunity to further crackdown on this illegal trade. By raising the age at which a puppy can be imported into the country – from 15 weeks to 24 weeks – and reintroducing controls such as tick treatment, we believe puppies entering this country would be happier and healthier.
“We also believe there needs to be more enforcement at our borders to ensure that checks are carried out on imports of puppies. Currently, it is too easy for smugglers to avoid detection as easily as travelling late at night or hiding shipments of puppies behind cargo such as bales of sawdust.”
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White-coated puppy being seized at port (Image: RSPCA)
Puppy cages hidden by bales of sawdust (Image: RSPCA)
The RSPCA believes as a nation of dog lovers our demands for adorable puppies means that at least 800,000 animals a year are bought and sold across the country, creating a ready-made market for those who put profit above animal welfare. While around 80,000 pups are imported legally into the UK from Ireland and the Continent, the numbers being smuggled remain unknown.
Mr Bowles continued: “Sadly, a rising demand in puppies means that responsible, reputable breeders who pride themselves on high levels of animal welfare cannot meet demand and we’re seeing more and more puppies being illegally smuggled into the country from abroad or being bred on puppy farms here at home.
“These dogs face serious health problems and behavioural issues which often affect the unsuspecting families who take them on.
“We believe more than 80,000 puppies a year are coming into the country from places such as Ireland, Romania and Hungary.”
In November 2016, the RSPCA intercepted a shipment of 96 puppies at Holyhead Port destined for the British market, highlighting the networks used to bring in puppies from overseas.
French bulldogs have become the UK's top dogs over the past decade but more need rescuing (Image: GETTY) RSPCA dog welfare expert Lisa Hens said today: “We know that the breeds of dog coming into our care often reflect the trends in dog ownership in the wider world and, at the moment, it doesn’t get more trendy than ‘designer’ dogs like French bulldogs and dachshunds.
Dachshund puppy born days after its pregnant mother was smuggled into UK (Image: Beth Walsh)
The Dogs Trust has also exposed the way puppies are being exploited in a series of undercover operations centred on Eastern Europe. Four separate investigations by the charity have revealed how underage dogs are forced to travel more than 30 hours from Central and Eastern Europe in appalling conditions. Even pregnant dogs are being smuggled so their litters can be deemed as "UK bred".
Dogs with a market value of more than £1million have been cared for by the charity under its Puppy Pilot scheme set up four years ago to look after animals seized by Government agencies.
Instant fines at ports are one way of clamping down on the trafficking, says the charity.
Paula Boyden, Dogs Trust veterinary director, said: “We urgently need to see a number of changes, including visual checks on all dogs entering the UK; out of hours and weekend cover at ports by Government agencies and increased maximum penalties for those caught, alongside the introduction of punitive Fixed Penalty Notices.
Conservative MP Nigel Huddleston (Mid Worcestershire) led Tuesday’s parliament debate and is calling on ministers to increase the pressure on the smugglers.
He said: “The Government has made it clear it takes seriously the issue of animal welfare, but it could go further. For instance, I would urge the Government to bring before Parliament, as soon as the legislative timetable allows, the introduction of on the spot fines for those caught illegally importing dogs.
“An improved presence at our border is also vital to tackling this trade, and the current disparity in the border presence between office hours and weekend and evening slots can be too easily exploited by smugglers.”
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