Puppy imports surge during lockdown

RSPCA urges government to crackdown on puppy imports in order to safeguard dog welfare, protect public health and consumer rights.

The number of dogs being commercially imported has surged by more than 50% due to lockdown – with imports from Romania leaping by 67% as the demand for puppies soared in the UK.

This week, annual statistics were released by APHA showing the number of dogs imported into the country for commercial reasons. The number of dogs imported from the EU increased by 52% from 39,562 in 2018 to 60,190 in 2020.

The number of imports from Romania alone increased 67% from 19,489 to 32,525 and now represent more than half of all EU imports.

David Bowles, Head of Public Affairs at the RSPCA, said the charity is ‘alarmed but unsurprised’ by the increase. He said: “We’ve seen the demand for dogs skyrocket during lockdown and, perhaps unsurprisingly, that’s led to a spike in the number if illicit breeders and dealers exploiting dogs and conning the public in order to cash in.

“Our frontline investigations into unscrupulous breeders and sellers has uncovered organised criminal gangs who import puppies from overseas – often from Ireland and Eastern European countries such as Romania – to see on to unsuspecting buyers here in the UK. These latest statistics from Defra just goes to show the scale of this problem; and these figures don’t account for the vast numbers of dogs we suspect are being illegally trafficked into the country in addition to these.”

The RSPCA has launched its #ForPupsSake campaign urging the UK government to increase the minimum age that puppies can be brought into the UK from 15 weeks to 24 weeks, as well as introducing better enforcement checks at the borders.

David added: “This Valentine’s Day we’re hoping that government will show some puppy love and commit to working with us and other welfare organisations to stop puppy imports for good. We’re calling on the government to crackdown on traffickers by bringing in new restrictions at the borders and ensuring better enforcement to stop those people floating the rules.”

The charity wants to better protect consumer rights and public health, with many members of the public being defrauded out of money and dogs coming from abroad often travelling without vital health checks and vaccinations for serious diseases.

As well as calling for the UK government to crackdown on the illegal imports of puppies, the animal welfare charity is also encouraging prospective buyers to get their pet safely and, where possible, to adopt instead of shop.

The RSPCA is urging all buyers to use ‘The Puppy Contract’ – a free online tool that offers a step-by-step guide on how to buy a happy, healthy puppy – and is supporting the UK government’s Petfished campaign to ensure families think about who is behind the pet.

This is important as the RSPCA’s survey revealed that only 51% of UK adults said they were confident in how to find a happy, healthy puppy and 32% said they did not feel confident in how to avoid an illegal or irresponsible breeder or seller.