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Cruel and unscrupulous: investigation lifts lid on underage puppies imported into UK as part of lucrative illegal trade

FOUR PAWS UK has exposed evidence of a systematic, unscrupulous and highly organised industry based on the fraudulent import of puppies into the UK, following a joint investigation with the Daily Mirror.

The investigation, which made the front page of the Daily Mirror this week, lifted the lid on a hugely lucrative industry in which underage puppies, bred in poor conditions and imported into the UK on fraudulent passports from Hungary. Puppies suffering from health conditions, behavioural problems and posing a potential rabies risk, could be ending up in the households of unwitting members of the British public.


For months, FOUR PAWS UK and the Daily Mirror tracked one particular transporter, thought to be bringing in around 80 puppies a month from breeders in Hungary, via DEFRA registered kennels. As part of the investigation, FOUR PAWS UK arranged for the purchase of a puppy, brought into the UK by this transporter. 
An independent veterinary report found that the puppy showed clear signs of mistreatment, was vomiting and had diarrhoea. She had not been treated for worms and was also suffering from kennel cough, which suggests she was kept in unsuitable conditions prior to and during transport.


The puppy was too young  (up to 8 weeks old) to travel on the TRACES scheme, which regulates commercial transport of animals, and the EU pet passport she was travelling on was therefore fraudulent. Although this puppy had been vaccinated for rabies, she was too young to be administered with the vaccine, meaning the vaccine could have been rendered ineffective .

“The picture that builds is one of a highly organised network of breeders, compliant vets, transporters and UK dealers,” commented Julie Sanders, Country Manager of FOUR PAWS UK. “The kennel owner we dealt with also stated that many of the puppies arriving at her kennels from Eastern Europe would be taken on and sold in Scotland. If that’s true, it means that UK consumers are potentially buying these puppies totally unwittingly, believing that they have been bred in the UK in suitable conditions. This is not just an issue of animal cruelty, it is also potentially a consumer protection issue.”

FOUR PAWS UK and the Daily Mirror also visited a puppy market in Hungary, witnessing first-hand  the conditions puppies are kept in and how easily and cheaply they can be bought and transported. Puppies, some of them just five weeks old, kept for hours on display in metal cages or in car boots away from their mothers, were being sold for as little as £10 in some cases.


The team witnessed a litter of six week old Jack Russell pups being sold from the back of a van. When asked if it would be possible to transport them to the UK, given the regulations in place, the owner responded that puppies siblings had already been transported to the UK. Another seller, who had a litter of French bulldogs for sale, suggested that it would not be a problem to transport underage puppies, it was simply a case of amending the date on the pet passport.


“The attitude of these traders is indicative of the fact that the UK’s regulations are not working and not being enforced properly. The general view seems to be that the UK regulations can be easily flouted with little or no consequences,” Sanders went on to say.


For some time, FOUR PAWS UK has been deeply concerned about the boom in the trade of puppies in the UK being bred on mass on puppy farms in Eastern Europe. This increase has been driven by the growing demand for cheap pedigree puppies and the relaxation of rules regarding the movement of pets in the EU, as well as the increase in the trade of puppies online on sites such as Gumtree, all of which have made the sale of illegal puppies much easier. The profit that can be made on these pedigree puppies is huge, and the punishment if caught is minimal, meaning there is virtually no deterrent. In addition these puppies are being removed from their mothers far too young, to meet the demand for cute, fashionable young puppies. The demand for puppies above the age of 15 weeks is much lower, but it is up to DEFRA and its registered kennels to ensure underage and mistreated puppies do not get into the UK.


“The UK government clearly needs to implement more effective measures to prevent the illegal  import of puppies to help put an end to this horrendous industry,” Julie Sanders concluded, on behalf of FOUR PAWS UK. “This should also include a crackdown on the online trade of puppies through classified sites. DEFRA needs to take its responsibility to stop this kind of import far more seriously, and to ensure that its kennels are functioning effectively and certainly helping to facilitate this trade.


"There should be more rigorous checks of ports and at DEFRA kennels, more funding for confiscations and more significant penalties for people caught importing and selling puppies illegally in order to stop the system being abused. We shouldn’t need to wait for an outbreak of rabies before this issue is taken seriously!”


FOUR PAWS UK will be writing to DEFRA to raise its concerns following the outcomes of its joint investigation with the Daily Mirror.


The full Daily Mirror report can be read here: