Dogs Trust rescues 1,500th smuggled puppy through pilot scheme

Dogs Trust is demanding the government to take urgent action to end puppy smuggling after rescuing the 1,500th smuggled puppy through its Puppy Pilot Scheme.

In just five years, Dogs Trust has rescued 1,500 puppies who were being illegally imported across UK borders, many in terrible conditions, with a potential street value of more than £3 million.

The Puppy Pilot Scheme was 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.

In January 2021, Dogs Trust rescued one Dachshund, two Labrador and two Springer Spaniel puppies who were all found hidden in a small cat carrier in the back of a van. The puppies were seized by the authorities at the Port of Dover, after being illegally transported into Britain from Eastern Europe before being cared for by Dogs Trust through the Pilot Scheme.

All five puppies were no more than five weeks old when they were rescued – well under the minimum 15 weeks that puppies must be to legally be imported into the UK. Within hours of being in the quarantine facility, one of the puppies (the Dachshund) became very unwell and was found to be suffering with the potentially deadly parvovirus. She sadly died within 48 hours of entering the country.

Over a period of three days a further two of the puppies worryingly began showing symptoms of parvovirus and despite being rushed to the vet, All and Arron also died. Shortly after, the black Labrador, Tara was also found to be suffering from the virus and was hurried to the vet.

Luckily, Tara recovered and both she and Befa the Springer Spaniel are now being cared for and rehabilitated before they are responsibly rehomed through Dogs Trust. Befa was the 1,500th puppy that went through the Dogs Trust’s Puppy Pilot.

All five puppies were likely going on to be sold to new homes in the UK to love with unsuspecting dog lovers.

Increase in dogs rescued

In 2020, Dogs Trust saw a 66% increase in dogs rescued through the scheme, compared to the previous year – from 204 in 2019 to 338 in 2020.

In the five years that the scheme has been running, the most common breed to be intercepted and cared for has been the Dachshund, with around 425 puppies being rehomed 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%).

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

The 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.

Paula Boyden, Veterinary Director at Dogs Trust said: “The 1500th puppy rehomed through the Puppy Pilot is a bittersweet milestone for us to reach. The scheme was originally set up on a trial basis in 2015, because there were not sufficient resources to care for the puppies being seized at the border. Five years on the need for our services is greater than ever as the demand for dogs during lockdown has further exacerbated the problem, and unfortunately, we know that the dogs we care for are just a small proportion of those that make it into the country illegally.

“We held our first conference with relevant stakeholders, Defra and APHA representatives to highlight our concerns about the illegal importation of puppies over eight years ago, and our asks remain the same. Now that the UK has left the EU, there has never been a better time for the government to raise the minimum age for puppies to be imported into the UK to six months to help make them less desirable. We also want to see tougher penalties for smugglers, as only a handful of cases have ever led to a prosecution, with paltry penalties that are no deterrent.”