Whilst the lockdown has seen many of us confined to our homes, it has sadly not stopped the puppy trade. Despite an initial decrease in the volume of online puppy ads, by the middle of April the numbers began to rise once again. As online classifieds are often a breeding ground for illegal activity by unscrupulous puppy traders, global animal welfare charity FOUR PAWS is concerned this peak could signify the booming puppy trade returning.
“Anonymity drives the illegal online puppy trade” says FOUR PAWS International Head of Companion Animals Campaigns Joanna Randall. She continues: “Anyone, anywhere in the world, can create an account on a classified ad site and sell a puppy, or pretend to sell one, then disappear without a trace. FOUR PAWS is campaigning to ensure only registered dogs can be advertised online. Sadly, many thousands of puppies from unknown origins and health status are transported illegally, hundreds of miles across multiple borders, every year to be sold online via classified ad sites. This poses a health risk to both animals and humans with the potential spread of zoonotic diseases across borders such as rabies.”
Law change, but no immediate impact
New legislation came into effect on April bringing expectations of more responsible ways of breeding, selling and buying pets. However despite the introduction of Lucy’s Law on April 6th, there was little effect seen on the rate of puppies being advertised online. While it is now a requirement for a buyer to purchase a new puppy or kitten directly from the person who bred them, lockdown restrictions made this a near impossibility. Government advice issued the day after Lucy’s Law came into effect reads that dog breeders could travel for the purposes of selling a puppy; or use a licensed transport company. Randall continues: “The introduction of Lucy’s Law brought hope. At FOUR PAWS we consider the legislation a first step toward improving the way puppies are bought and sold online, but sadly the immediate signs are not promising. We want Lucy’s Laws to save thousands of dogs being separated from their mothers and being made to endure horrendous conditions whilst they are moved across Europe and the UK.”
A dog is for life
Whilst rehoming centres may be unable to continue operating as normal due to the restrictions many people are not letting this stop them from adding a new four-legged friend to their families. These new additions may have accounted for the almost 3,000 ads across Gumtree and Pets4Homes at the end of April. Whilst these numbers are 61% lower than figures at the start of the lockdown, there is still a worryingly large number of animals available, many of which are able to be delivered to the buyer’s door. When the restrictions are lifted many may struggle to care for a young dog for the next 10-15 years of its life, and Randall warns of starting on a path you may not be able to fully serve. “Dogs are a brilliant addition to many families, but the family also needs to be right for the dog.. Dogs offer great companionship but we strongly warn against people rushing into what should be a life-long commitment, and always advise to adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue organisation where you have a greater chance of being matched with your perfect companion, rather than seeking out a puppy online.”
FOUR PAWS calls on governments to review the health risks that the companion animal trade poses regarding cross border movement of animals for sale and apply tighter controls. If such calls are heeded it is expected that there may be a decline in irresponsible breeders and third-party dealers which in course may relinquish, abandon or even kill breeding or unsellable animals . In the midst of Europe-wide lockdowns (April 2020), 27 Chihuahuas, most of which were pregnant, were rescued from being euthanised at a vet practice in Hungary. The breeder claimed they were unable to care for them due to the travel restrictions enforced by COVID-19 which meant sales had stalled. This is likely to not be an isolated case and again acts as a stark warning surrounding the growing, but hidden, illegal puppy trade.
 Online advertisements on Gumtree and Pets4Homes between 27th March and 29th April 2020