Record numbers of illegal puppies are being smuggled across the Channel into the UK ready for the “Christmas trade”.
In three undercover operations the Dogs Trust seized 100 young dogs in just one week from Folkestone and Dover ports.
But the UK’s largest dog welfare charity said the clampdown was “just the tip of the iceberg”, and feared people looking for a cheap puppy would fuel the illegal trade.
The pups are found in “shocking conditions”, with severe health issues.
The Dogs Trust said it had come across seven Cane Corso pups with infected wounds after their ears and tails were cropped and docked, apparently using scissors and vodka.
According to the trust, high demand for “trendy” breeds such as French bulldogs, English bulldogs, Chow Chows and Daschunds helped to fuel the “sickening trade”, which can net bootleg breeders tens of thousands of pounds.
Dogs Trust veterinary director Paula Boyden said: “Buying an illegally imported puppy could potentially cost well-meaning but unsuspecting families thousands of pounds in quarantine and vet bills and emotional heartache for the family if the puppy falls ill or worse, dies.
“We continue to be astounded at the lengths these deceptive breeders and dealers will go to.”
Under the Dogs Trust’s “Puppy Pilot” scheme, 582 illegally smuggled puppies were rehomed between December 2015 and 18 October 2017. About 40 rescued puppies died from the poor conditions they suffered on the journey to the UK.
In 2016 officials found 688 “illegally landed” dogs, more than treble the recorded number in 2014.
The number of dogs entering the UK to be kept as pets in 2011 was 85,299, and this figure continues to increase year-on-year, with 275,876 entering in 2016.
Between 2011 and 2013 the number of dogs coming to the UK from central and eastern Europe in particular rocketed, with a 780% increase from Lithuania and a 663% increase from Hungary.
Keith Taylor MEP, the Green Party’s animals spokesperson and member of the European Parliament’s Animal Welfare Intergroup, said the illegal trade is “gruesome and reprehensible”.
“With more than 100,000 dogs in rescue centres across the UK looking for a home it is hugely upsetting to see the demand for puppies fuelling such a barbaric criminal enterprise.
“Puppy smuggling and the illegal puppy trade is big business with dealers getting rich while leaving a trail of dead puppies and heartbroken families.”
People have taken to Twitter to voice their frustration at the trade.
How to avoid purchasing illegal pups
- Ask to see the mother and pup together
- Visit the new pup, at its home, more than once and get paperwork before taking it home
- Take new puppies for a veterinary health check immediately
- Do not buy from anyone who can supply various breeds on demand
- Do not to buy a puppy that looks underweight, or feel pressured into buying