RSPCA says we must work together to tackle the puppy smuggling problem

RSPCA chief inspector gives evidence to Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee about scale of puppy smuggling problem.

“No one organisation can tackle this problem on its own.” That was the message from the RSPCA at the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee session on the puppy smuggling problem.

Chief Inspector Ian Biggs, from the RSPCA’s Special Operations Unit, which specialises in investigating organised animal crime such as the puppy trade, joined Dogs Trust veterinary director Paula Boyden, City of London Corporation enforcement officer Robert Quest, and British Veterinary Association president Daniella Dos Santos as expert witnesses at the EFRA hearing.

The committee – chaired by Neil Parish MP – sought to find out more about what is happening currently and explore ways to tackle the problem and improve the situation.

The panel raised concerns over the lack of robust statistics on how many dogs are coming into the country each year and the fact that no records are kept on those dogs who come in.

RSPCA Chief Inspector Briggs said: “We know that smugglers will bring in puppies before 5am because they know they can avoid checks at the ports and borders. These are dogs that are deliberately being brought in with now paperwork at all.”

Many other puppies are brought in by transporters who abuse and exploit the pet passport scheme.

Lib Dem MP and committee member Angela Smith said: “We’re not talking about puppy smuggling here – we’re talking about puppy trafficking. It’s absolutely evil.”

RSPCA Chief Inspector Biggs added: “No one organisation can tackle this problem on its own. These puppies are a commodity, they’re being trafficked across Europe as a commodity. The sort of people involved in other crimes too. They’ve got no regard for the puppies and no regard for anyone else.

“We need to change consumer habits because it’s too easy to buy a dog. The aim is to try and change the attitude that you don’t want to buy a dog as cheaply as possible. What you want is quality – just like you do with any other domestic items you buy.”

The witnesses suggested the following could help to crackdown on the smuggling of puppies – but it would need the assistance and cooperation of numerous authorities, agencies and organisations:

  • Registration scheme for anyone selling puppies
  • Additional training for border staff in terms of dog welfare
  • Change minimum age of puppies at import to 24 weeks
  • Government-led education campaign to ensure the public is informed and can make responsible decision about puppy buying.

The RSPCA, whose Scrap the Puppy Trade campaign has, for four years, been calling for more action to crackdown on the unscrupulous trade in puppies, are calling on MPs to use the opportunity of Brexit to crackdown on the problem.

RSPCA assistant director of external affairs, David Bowles, said: “Brexit could provide us with an opportunity to tackle this problem. We believe that raising the age at which a puppy can be imported into the country – from 15 weeks to 24 weeks – would mean puppies entering this country would be happier and healthier.

“We also believe there needs to be more enforcement at our borders to ensure that checks are carried out on imports of puppies. Currently, it is too easy for smugglers to avoid detection as easily as travelling late at night or hiding shipments of puppies behind cargo. But we know that budgets and workload on government agencies and local authorities make it difficult to crackdown on the problem.”

The RSPCA- which has campaigned tirelessly for an increase in maximum sentences under the Animal Welfare Act, something the government has pledged to do – is also continuing the call for this move to help tackle those dealers and sellers who continue to flout the laws and make huge amounts of money.

RSPCA operations at ports have discovered large numbers of puppies being smuggled into the country in vans before being passed on to sellers who will advertise the dogs online as ‘home-bred’ family pets. In November 2016, the RSPCA intercepted a shipment of 96 puppies at Holyhead Port destined for the British market.

The charity is urging the public to play their part in tackling this trade by taking on a rescue dog instead of buying a puppy. For those who want to buy a puppy, welfare experts would urge them to use the Puppy Contract to help them responsibly source a happy, healthy dog.