How to spot a puppy scam as Dogs Trust issues warning over surge in illegal puppy smuggling

The UK’s largest dog welfare charity is asking the government to do more to end the illegal puppy smuggling trade as numbers continue to soar.
Dog Thefts have surged in the UKDog Thefts have surged in the UK
Dog Thefts have surged in the UK

Dogs Trust is calling for urgent government action to end puppy smuggling and to inform buyers to do their research to avoid inadvertently fuelling the illegal trade, as numbers have risen dramatically during the pandemic.

The Dogs Trust Puppy Pilot scheme was started five years ago and has seen 1,500 puppies rescued which were being illegally imported across UK borders, many in terrible conditions.

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Dogs Trust says these puppies 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.

In 2020, Dogs Trust saw an increase of 66% in dogs coming through the scheme compared to 2019. The charity now estimates the total street value of the puppies rescued to be more than £3million if they had been sold by their dealers.

Paula Boyden, Veterinary Director at Dogs Trust, described the milestone as “bittersweet”, and said: “Five years on, the need for our services is greater than ever as the demand for dogs during lockdown has further exacerbated the problem and, unfortunately, we know that the dogs we care for are just a small proportion of those that make it into the country illegally.

“Now that the UK has left the EU, there has never been a better time for the Government to raise the minimum age for puppies to be imported into the UK to six months to help make them less desirable.

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“We also want to see tougher penalties for smugglers, as only a handful of cases have ever led to a prosecution, with paltry penalties that are no deterrent.”

-> Dogs Trust Leeds: Meet the adorable puppies in need of a forever home right nowThe legal age for puppies to enter the UK is 15 weeks from an EU country, but the average age of puppies rescued in 2020 was around eight weeks. The youngest puppies seized were just four weeks old.

Ms Boyden said: “The sellers and importers care little for the dogs’ welfare and just want to make a quick buck – as a nation of dog lovers we can help stem this problem and put a stop to the suffering.

“We are urging people to be patient when buying a puppy and follow our advice to see the puppy with their mum and siblings more than once, even if that is over video call due to current restrictions.

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“Check all paperwork carefully and if something doesn’t feel right, walk away and report it to Trading Standards.”

Dogs Trust stresses that people may think they are buying a healthy, happy puppy, but warn that many 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.

The most common breed to be intercepted and cared for through the Puppy Pilot scheme has been the Dachshund, with around 425 puppies being rehomed since 2015. The second most popular was the French Bulldog, and the third was the English Bulldog.

There has also been an increase in heavily pregnant dogs being transported illegally into the UK, as this helps the traders attract less suspicion than smuggling puppies at the border and makes them seem like legitimate breeders.

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This can cause significant suffering and health implications to both the mum and puppies and it is illegal to transport a pregnant dog in the last 10% of her pregnancy.

In January 2021, Dogs Trust 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.

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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 they are responsibly rehomed through Dogs Trust.