Undercover footage has captured puppies crammed together in cages before they are smuggled on a dangerous journey into the UK.
Popular breeds are kept in the grim conditions in Europe’s puppy farms before being bundled into Britain, where some vomit themselves to death.
The Dogs Trust released the footage of caged dogs crowded together in tiny pens in breeding farms in Hungary and Lithuania to drive home the importance of checking where your lockdown pups are coming from.
The charity is demanding the Government act now to stop illegal dog imports, as three more sick pups died on their perilous journey to the UK – bound for unsuspecting dog lovers’ homes.
The Dogs Trust has shared the tragic stories of the latest puppies to lose their lives in the racket as demand for dogs soared over the past year in lockdown.
Most popular smuggled breeds – see the full list below…
The charity has rescued and cared for 1,500 illegally imported puppies worth an estimated street value of £3million in the five years of its Puppy Pilot scheme.
But it warns this figure is likely just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ after seeing a two-thirds increase in the number of dogs being illegally imported during 2020.
The youngest puppy seized by authorities last year and taken into the charity’s care was just four weeks old, and the average age was just eight weeks.
This was far too young for the pups to have been taken away from their mothers let alone transported thousands of miles across borders, the trust said.
In January, it rescued one dachshund, two labradors and two springer spaniel puppies found hidden in a single tiny cat carrier seized by authorities from the back of a van at the Port of Dover.
The pups had been illegally transported thousands of miles across Europe from Slovakia and were due to be delivered to homes in the UK.
All 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 Trust said.
The spaniels weighed around 2kg and the Labradors around 3.7kg.
Within hours of arriving into quarantine, Lady Longlegs the dachshund was vomiting and had severe diarrhoea. She died of parvovirus within 48 hours of entering the country.
Within three days, two more of the puppies began showing symptoms of the highly contagious virus. Despite vets’ best efforts, Alla and Arron also died.
Black labrador Tara was also found to be suffering from parvovirus, but vets were able to save her.
Tara, and Befa the springer spaniel – who is the 1,500th pup the charity has rescued in the last five years- are both now being cared for before they are rehomed.
There is currently no legal requirement to vaccinate against parvovirus for puppies and dogs coming into the UK from overseas, the Trust warned dog lovers.
Given the timeframe within which they fell ill, it was likely they caught it as a result of unhygienic conditions where they were bred, with their conditions made worse by their stressful journey mixing with other puppies.
Many imported young pups were unvaccinated and the products of poor breeding practices, leaving them at risk of potentially fatal diseases, the charity said.
And despite bans on transporting pregnant dogs, in the past four years Dogs Trust has cared for 41 of them along with 217 puppies born after their arrival in the UK – of which at least 41 died.
The charity wants the Government to raise the minimum age for puppies to enter the UK to six months, and increase penalties for those caught illegally importing dogs.
Paula Boyden, Veterinary Director at Dogs Trust, said lockdown demand for dogs was only increasing need for rescue and rehoming services.
She added: “Unfortunately, we know that the dogs we care for are just a small proportion of those that make it into the country illegally.”
Ms Boyden added that the current “paltry penalties” were no deterrent to illegal importers.
She added: “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.
“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 of dogs like Tara, Befa and the pups they were imported in with.
“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 – check all paperwork carefully and if something doesn’t feel right, walk away and report it to Trading Standards.”
Most smuggled dog breeds
In the five years to 2020, the Dogs Trust found puppies that were seized at the border and went into quarantine primarily came from Hungary (16%), Poland (12%), Romania (10%) and Slovakia (5%).
These breeds were the most smuggled:
- Dachshund – around 425 daschund puppies have been rehomed since 2015 – over a quarter (28%) of the total number of dogs.
- French Bulldog – this was the second most smuggled with 21% of all intercepted dogs the fashionable breed.
- English Bulldog – One in ten or 10% of all dogs intercepted at the border were this breed.
How to buy a dog safely
Dog lovers may think they are buying a healthy, happy puppy.
But many will go on to 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 Dogs Trust warns.
To help buyers who want to avoid fuelling the illegal dog-importing trade, charity has provided helpful advice on how to avoid being misled when buying a puppy advertised online.
- Always see puppy and mum together at their home and make sure to visit more than once, even if it is via video call due to coronavirus restrictions.
- Never pay a deposit up front without seeing the puppy in person.
- Ask lots of questions and make sure you see all vital paperwork, such as a puppy contract – which gives lots of information about their parents, breed, health, diet, the puppy’s experiences and more.
- If you have any doubts or feel pressured to buy, as hard as it may be, walk away and report the seller.
- For more information and advice view the Dogs Trust buyer’s guide.