New findings reveal that 74% of UK vet professionals believe they’ve seen a dog that could have been illegally imported in the past 12 months.
The UK’s largest dog welfare charity Dogs Trust polled professionals in the veterinary sector earlier this year to understand how confident they felt about identifying and reporting suspected cases of illegally imported dogs.
The findings revealed that although nearly three quarters of UK vet professionals believe they have seen illegally imported dogs, only 50% would know to report it to Trading Standards, which could mean that many cases go unreported.
As well as welfare concerns for the dogs imported, a key reason to report it is potential disease risk – puppies that have been illegally imported have often been given the required rabies vaccination at too young an age for it to be effective, whilst some may not have received it at all.
Dogs Trust has published four investigative reports exposing the trade, which have repeatedly shown that the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) is being used as a cover to import underage puppies from central and eastern Europe for commercial reasons.
It is illegal to import dogs to Great Britain via PETS with the intention of selling them. Dogs Trust’s most recent reports revealed a trend for heavily pregnant dogs to be brought into the country with little care and consideration for them, or their unborn puppies’ health.
Recent figures released by Defra show that imports of dogs to Great Britain via the flawed Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) hit 307,357 dogs in 2018, up from 287,016 in 2017.
This is the sixth year in a row that numbers have increased since the controversial changes to PETS in 2012 standardised pet travel across the EU. In 2011, before the changes this figure was 85,786.
Findings from Dogs Trust’s poll revealed that two in five vet professionals said they had attempted to report illegally imported dogs and over half of those who did found the process difficult.
More than one in five (21%) of vet professionals said they would be unsure about reporting a puppy or dog they suspected that had been illegally imported into the UK in the first place.
Some of the major barrier to report cases included knowing the correct process; struggling to reach the right contact (particularly out of hours); uncertainty regarding client confidentiality and owners being unwilling to report.
Dogs Trust’s Veterinary Director Paula Boyden said: “We have heard stories of vet professionals trying to report a dog they suspect could have been illegally imported but then struggling to get through to the relevant contact, whilst also having to explain the situation to the unsuspecting owners. These findings highlight an urgent need to improve the process of reporting cases to Trading Standards in a timely manner, particularly out of hours.
“More could be don’t to build confidence among vet professionals in the reporting process, so that when they take the time to report a suspected case, they feel assured it will be handled promptly and consistently. We will continue to do all we can to assist Trading Standards and other agencies to improve this process.
“It is clear that an improved protocol around reporting needs to come hand in hand with better public awareness of the illegal importation of dogs.”
For more information on Dogs Trust’s work on puppy smuggling you can visit www.dogstrust.org.uk/puppy-smuggling/.