The UK’s largest dog welfare charity is demanding that the Government acts now to end the cruel puppy smuggling trade, as demand for dogs continues to soar

• In just five years, Dogs Trust has rescued 1,500 puppies who were being illegally imported across UK borders, many in terrible conditions – and this is likely to be the tip of the iceberg

• Since the rescue scheme began in late 2015, the street value of the puppies intercepted is more than £3 million

• In 2020, Dogs Trust saw a 66% increase in dogs coming through the scheme compared to 2019

• The charity is – once again – calling for urgent Government action to end puppy smuggling and for buyers to do their research to avoid inadvertently fuelling this cruel trade

Dogs Trust is demanding that the Government takes urgent action to end puppy smuggling as the charity reaches the milestone of 1,500 smuggled puppies rescued and re-homed through its Puppy Pilot scheme – with an approximate street value of £3 million if they had been sold by their dealers. Dogs Trust is calling for the Government to:

• Raise the minimum age for puppies to enter the UK to six months

• Increase penalties for those caught illegally importing dogs

The Puppy Pilot scheme was originally set up in 2015 to aid the interception of illegally imported puppies by APHA (Animal and Plant Health Agency) at the ports and provide care and rehabilitation for them prior to finding them new homes. Five years on and the ‘pilot’ scheme is still needed more than ever as demand for dogs during the pandemic continues to fuel the trade.

In 2020, Dog Trust saw a 66% increase in dogs rescued through the scheme, compared to the previous year – from 204 in 2019 to 338 in 2020. The average age of puppies being seized in 2020 was around eight weeks, compared to around 11 weeks in 2019. The legal age for puppies to enter the country is 15 weeks from another EU country and the youngest puppies seized were just four weeks old; far too young to have been taken away from their mother let alone transported thousands of miles across borders.

In the five years Dogs Trust has been running the programme, the most common breed to be intercepted and cared for through the scheme has been the Dachshund, with around 425 puppies being re-homed since 2015 – over a quarter (28%) of the total number of dogs. The second most popular was the French Bulldog (21%) and the third was the English Bulldog (10%). The puppies that were seized at the border and went into quarantine primarily came from Hungary (16%), Poland (12%), Romania (10%) and Slovakia (5%)4.

For more than six years, Dogs Trust has been calling on the Government to end puppy smuggling, an illegal practice whereby puppies, generally under the legal minimum of 15 weeks of age, are brought into Great Britain for sale with either no or falsified paperwork and often without having received the necessary treatments, including rabies vaccination. 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.

Another disturbing and increasing trend is heavily pregnant dogs being transported illegally into the country in the late stages of pregnancy, causing significant suffering and health implications to both mum and puppies. Not only will importing one dog attract less suspicion at the border, but as responsible buyers will ask to see the puppies with their mother, this tactic allows criminals to give the impression of being legitimate breeders and avoid being reported to Trading Standards.

Since August 2017 Dogs Trust has cared for 41 pregnant mums on the Puppy Pilot. 217 puppies have been born, of which 41 sadly died (to end September 2020). It is illegal to transport a pregnant dog in the last 10% of her pregnancy, and yet this is still happening due to lack of action from the Government.