The Illegal Puppy Trade 


FOUR PAWS have been tirelessly campaigning for tougher restrictions on puppy imports into the UK from other countries. The pandemic has seen an enormous rise in the sale of pets, with the average price of a puppy increasing from £970 in March 2020 to an astonishing £2,062 in January 2021. This ever-increasing profit leads to illegal breeders selling puppies that are often underage, sick, and likely to die soon after arriving in the UK due to poor standards of care and pre-existing health conditions caused by improper breeding.

What changes do we want to see for puppies?

We want the minimum age of puppies being imported from other countries to be raised from just 15 weeks to six months. This will hopefully discourage breeders from separating puppies from their mothers too early, which can lead to health issues and make the trade far less lucrative. 

Our Model Solution must be adopted at a national level. We want to see the implementation of national digital Identification & Registration (I&R) databases which provide full traceability and identification of persons involved in a dog’s lifecycle, including the breeder, seller, transporter, the microchipping vet, the registering qualified professional, and all owners throughout the dog’s life.  

We want to ensure that dogs with cropped ears or docked tails cannot be imported into the UK. It has been illegal to mutilate dogs for aesthetic reasons since 2006, but the loophole of allowing these dogs to be imported and sold within the UK means that we are still complicit in their suffering.  

Restrictions on the importations of pregnant dogs is needed, as travelling across borders for several days can cause extreme stress and could affect the health of both the mother and her unborn puppies.

The current state of affairs 

In June 2021, the Government launched the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill as part of  their Action Plan for Animal Welfare, which is set to include a reduction to the number of pets that can travel under the Pet Travel Regulations, as well as an increase in the minimum import age, restrictions on heavily pregnant dog imports and those with docked tails or cropped ears. While we commend this long-awaited move, we must ensure that the Government follows through on their promises with no loopholes or ambiguity.  

What about Lucy’s Law?

We applaud the introduction of Lucy’s Law, which states that puppies and kittens can no longer be sold through third party sellers – such as a pet shop or commercial dealers – unless they have bred the animals themselves. Instead, anyone looking to buy or adopt a puppy or kitten under six months must either deal directly with the breeder or an animal rehoming centre. However, this law only applies to England and Scotland. We are still lobbying the other devolved assemblies to adopt the same legislation, as it is incredibly easy to bypass these laws by selling a puppy or kitten to an English person in Wales, despite the law’s name sake, Lucy, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who died in 2016 after being subjected to terrible conditions, originating from a Welsh puppy farm. Wales is due to make this into law in September 2021, while Northern Ireland is supposed to have its First Reading on the legislation in the coming months. 

We hope that with both the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill and Lucy’s Law, puppies will have greater protection from unscrupulous breeders that care more about profit than lives. 

Have you or someone you know been a victim of an illegal puppy dealer? Have you seen a suspicious advert online?  

You have the power to do something - please report any suspicious activity by filling out our online webform to help us tackle unlicensed puppy breeders. With the help of our partners Animal Protection Services, we will investigate your case and where possible seek justice for you, your family and the puppies that suffered by taking illegal breeders to court. 

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