Demand for puppies is rising – but at what cost?

In a recent seizure, 10 French bulldog puppies – all four weeks old – were found heavily sedated in a car travelling from Poland to the UK.

The puppies were hidden in the hollow of the back seat under a pile of blankets and under one of the front seats.

Luckily, they were seized by the authorities and cared for by Dogs Trust. But tragically, one puppy didn’t make it through the ordeal. 

This is the stark reality of puppy smuggling into the UK and the longer the Government continues to dither and delay, the more puppies will be in harm’s way.

I’ve always been a big animal lover, and I had lots of different pets growing up. Our pets are a part of the family – we can’t allow them to be treated like this at the very start of their lives. 

The illegal importation of puppies into the UK has become a rising problem in recent years. The Government is well aware of the issue. So much so the Conservatives included it in their manifesto – but so far they have failed to take any meaningful action.  

Now is the time to tighten the rules and end the suffering of puppies at the hands of the criminals involved in this trade.  

In 2012, the pet travel rules were simplified across the EU, meaning that puppies as young as 15 weeks could be given passports and brought to the UK. The minimum age of entry before had been 10 months. 

This means puppies can enter the country when they are younger and more desirable to potential buyers than older dogs – we all know how cute, fluffy puppies are in higher demand. 

The Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) is intended to help you or I take our family pets on holiday. But criminals have been taking advantage by illegally importing thousands of underage puppies every year to be sold to unsuspecting buyers in the UK. 

In the first year after the relaxation of controls, there was a 61% increase in the number of dogs entering Great Britain. Animal welfare charities have long been calling on the Government to act – by increasing the minimum age that puppies can enter the country to six months, and creating harsher penalties for those caught illegally importing dogs.  

Dogs Trust has been exposing the harsh reality of the trade for more than six years through five undercover investigations. Through these the charity found that puppies have been found being bred in horrific conditions and transported thousands of miles from Central and Eastern Europe – with no food, not enough water to drink, no exercise and no toilet breaks. 

There have been examples of vets falsifying data on pet passports and even offering to sedate puppies so their importers can physically smuggle them across the border.

At the UK ports, the border controls are not good enough to properly police this, and the penalties – which stand at a maximum of 12 months but are more often a paltry fine – are nowhere near severe enough to deter these criminals. 

These puppies are being sold to unsuspecting dog lovers. But if the public knew what these puppies have been through, I’m sure they wouldn’t want to fuel this trade. They’ve gone through more than we can ever imagine at the beginning of their short lives.

It’s hard to pin down how many puppies are smuggled, but since December 2015 Dogs Trust has rescued more than 1,500 illegally imported puppies and it’s likely this is just the tip of the iceberg.

One disturbing trend is dogs being taken illegally into the UK in the very late stages of pregnancy, causing significant suffering and health implications to both mum and puppies. It is illegal to transport a pregnant dog in the last 10% of her pregnancy, and yet this is still happening due to the Government’s lack of action. 

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit, there has been a huge increase in demand for puppies as people spend more time at home. This has led to puppy sellers increasing prices and traders adapting their practices to smuggle even more puppies into the UK to meet demand. 

Chow Chows, for example, saw an average 134% increase in price from March to October last year. This trend is especially clear in ‘fashionable’ breeds of dogs, such as Dachshunds, English Bulldogs, Pugs and French Bulldogs, which are also the most commonly illegally imported breeds of dogs. 

Now the UK has left the EU where pet travel rules were harmonised, the Government must take action and legislate to end this abhorrent trade.

Labour supports Dogs Trust’s call for the minimum age for all puppies being imported into the UK to be increased to six months old, to make them less desirable to prospective buyers and deter criminals looking to cash in on smuggling puppies. 

We also want to raise maximum penalties for those caught illegally importing dogs as currently you can get a longer sentence for smuggling cigarettes than you can for smuggling puppies.

The Government should make it a priority to include in the Queen’s Speech a comprehensive Animal Welfare Bill, which should cover puppy smuggling, and put those tougher sentences and minimum ages for puppies entering the country into law. 

It is time for the Government to act on its manifesto promise without delay, and crack down on the illegal smuggling of dogs and puppies. 

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