Publication - Research publication

Sourcing of pet dogs from illegal importation and puppy farms 2016-2017: scoping research

Published: 9 Nov 2017
Agriculture and Rural Economy Directorate
Part of:
Farming and rural, Research

The report describes research into the scale of the trade in imported and illegally bred puppies.

Sourcing of pet dogs from illegal importation and puppy farms 2016-2017: scoping research
Impact of the puppy trade

Impact of the puppy trade

Irresponsible and illegal puppy trade has a variety of negative impacts related to welfare and wellbeing of dogs, people and society. Below we analyse these negative aspects, again drawing on our range of collected data.

Animal Health and Welfare

The impact of the puppy trade on the dogs involved was well documented by the experts, often because this is the focus of the studies and projects they fund. The impact begins at the point of origin and is evident at every point in the trade. For example, an NGO expert summarises the puppy and public health concerns in the international trade in Case Study Four.

Case Study Four: The Impact on Puppy and Public Health from the Trade.

We know from our investigations that how these puppies are being bred are, you know, really in very, very poor conditions, they're very barren, their welfare needs are not being met. For example, one of the groups of puppies were kept in basically a cupboard under the stairs so the only time that they saw daylight was when the door was opened. There is very little attention paid to the provenance of the children, for example, I saw an alleged pedigree for a Lithuanian puppy and when you looked at it, it was actually a sibling mating, which as you know, is a big no, no. And clearly, as you know, for certain breeds there are certain health tests that we would normally do, so for example, you have a Labrador you would expect the parents to be hip scored before you breed with them because we know there's an inherited component to that particular condition, you'd expect them to have their elbows scored because again with elbow dysplasia, you know there's an inherited component with some of the ocular problems you'd expect them to be eye checked. And none of this would happen you know, none of this is happening with the parents; the individuals associated with it are doing the bare minimum. To get them to the UK, they're undergoing enormous journeys; you are talking probably 30 hours by road to get to the UK. And again, anecdotally what we're hearing is that they're given very little in the way of food and water because obviously if you put something in stuff comes out at the other end and that creates a headache for the puppies being transported. So it's hardly surprising you know, for example, the work that we've done that we've lost a number of the puppies. On the other side of the fence is the potential disease risk as well. The investigations we did we found that because the puppies were so young either they weren't being vaccinated against rabies or they were being given a half dose. To my shame members of my own profession in these countries were certifying these puppies to be 15 weeks and having been vaccinated when they hadn't. And as you know, the other requirement to come into the UK is to have a tapeworm treatment between one and five days before entry. If they're not being vaccinated there's no way they're going to be popping a worming pill down these puppies [ EI2].

These human and dog health and welfare impacts were echoed by all experts. As a consequence of these welfare issues, the above NGO reported that in the period from December 2015 to July 2017 they supported the quarantine and rehoming of 507 puppies. A further 26 puppies (almost 5%) died during this time. Of the puppies stopped by the authorities as a part of the scheme, almost 70% are either a Dachshund, French Bulldog, English bulldog, Pug or Chow. There is profit to be made out of this misery, according to the experts:

if you've got 40 … and three happen to die they're just getting kicked out at a lay-by… if I pick up 100 and I only end up with 50 I'm still going to make a good profit out of it [ EI4].

basically what's happening here is the cost of production is so low they're willing to take a chance and bring a hundred pups over and maybe getting ten of them alive... and they'll still make it worth their while [ EI5].

Death and disease were commonly identified impacts of the domestic trade [ EI6]. A further impact emphasised by experts and common to legal and illegal and domestic and international breeding establishments is the prevalence of and poor breeding standards of brachycephalic breeds (breeds with the very short noses that struggle to breathe) - " some of them are going to need corrective surgery but the problem is that a lot of people think that when a puppy snorts and snuffles and snores that it's cute, not the fact that the dog's actually struggling just to exist" [ EI2]. The impacts identified in the trade are often long-lived by the dogs and their owners. This is also reflected in the online survey data - long-term health problems, long-term behavioural problems, short-term health problems and premature death - were, in the order listed, thought to be very significant (see Table 14).

Table 14: The Identifiable Impacts of the Trade indicated by survey respondents

Question 30 - What is the identifiable impact of the illegal puppy trade on the puppies Very significant Significant Neither significant nor insignificant Not very significant Not at all significant
Long term health problems 41 8 0 0 0
Short term health problems 37 10 1 0 0
Long term behavioural problems 40 8 1 0 0
Premature death/destruction 35 12 2 0 0

*49 respondents

Furthermore, one respondent commenting on the animal welfare aspect said " Puppy's/dogs who are victims of illegal trading/breeding suffer greatly, the cruelty involved is incredibly concerning". Other implications listed by respondents were the risk of disease from imported dogs to other dogs and animals (specifically rabies) as well as the " very significant impact on other illegal activities, the puppy trade provides funds for other criminal activity which is also a huge social and economical concern". Experts also identified the impact extends well beyond the puppies in the trade, arguing it has an effect on the state of the nation's dogs' health: from outbreaks of known diseases and the risk of introducing new diseases to the dog population to the long term behavioural impact resulting from puppies not being socialised properly, being removed from their mothers too early and having a traumatic journey to the UK. Experts suggested a possible consequence of this to be an increase in dog-bites resulting from a rise in aggressive and 'unsocialised' dogs in the UK. Surveyed stakeholders similarly identified illness, disease and behavioural issues as a consequence of illegal or farmed puppies in response to Question 22 (Table 15).

Table 15: Conditions typically found in Puppies in the Trade identified by survey respondents

Question 22 - How often are the conditions listed below typically found in illegal bred and 'farmed' puppies? Very often Often Sometimes Rarely Never
Appears younger than age stated 30 17 2 0 0
Pathogens (parvovirus, canine brucellosis, canine distemper) 23 12 13 0 0
Respiratory illnesses (Bordetella bronchiseptica (ie. Kennel cough), pneumonia and other respiratory infections) 21 15 12 0 0
Parasites (Giardia canis, coccidiosis, intestinal parasites ( e.g. roundworms, whipworms, hookworms, tapeworms) 32 11 5 0 0
Skin conditions (rashes, fleas, ticks, mange) 24 16 9 0 0
Common illnesses (eye problems) 22 15 11 0 0
Weight (under) 26 15 7 0 0
Inherited disorders 18 18 11 0 0
Behavioural problems 24 15 9 0 0

*49 respondents

Due to the concerns around biosecurity, the puppies involved in the trade may experience further adversity when identified by enforcement agencies. Each of the options available to enforcement agencies involves potential further suffering or death. An LA expert identified that while the decision to 'destroy' healthy puppies was seldom taken, the alternatives also had negative consequences. Dogs returned to the country of origin with the transporter were identified by experts as discarded (at the port of origin) or kept for prolonged periods in the vehicle while an alternative route into the UK is identified. Consequently, " they still end up in the country just on another you know, at another time" [ EI2].

In response to this issue, the aforementioned Operation Delphin multi-agency partnership has arranged for seized puppies from Ireland to be returned and rehomed by the Irish SPCA so they do not go back into the trade [ EI4]. This agreement has been facilitated by the nature of the trade from Ireland. However, this cannot be replicated in England, as the origin of seized puppies is seldom identifiable. Instead, puppies seized in England are commonly placed in quarantine kennels. Puppies arriving from other European countries seized at the port or identified within the UK without the correct paperwork will need to spend at least three weeks in quarantine. This period was recognised by some experts (as confirmed by dog behaviourists) as a critical window in a puppy's life (aged 3-14 weeks), at which time it is crucial to socialise and habituate them. The quarantine facilities used by government agencies cannot provide the nurturing and socialisation required at this time - thereby negatively impacting on the welfare and behaviour of the puppy. As discussed in Case Study Two, Dogs Trust have responded to this by providing enhanced environments and funding for quarantined puppies in Kent. The impact of kennelling trafficked puppies is further exacerbated in cases where traders refuse to hand over their puppies to the authorities. Consequently, the SSPCA holds hundreds of puppies, who can be kennelled for up to a year before their case goes to court:

And by the time it gets to court they're no longer pups; these are institutionalised dogs that have had very little socialisation. So you have to then question yourself … are you achieving what you're setting out to do … or compromising animal welfare [ EI4].

According to experts, there are currently no provisions in the law to re-home these puppies prior to the trial, although this is possible for 'other' farmed animals.

Consumer Health and Wellbeing

Part of changing consumer behaviour around buying puppies is linked to conveying to people the consequences of engaging with illegal puppy trading and breeding. With that in mind, the online survey asked respondents what they felt the impacts are on consumers - see Table 16.

Table 16: Identifiable Impact of the Trade on Consumers

Question 29 - What is the identifiable impact of the illegal puppy trade on the consumer? Very significant Significant Neither significant nor insignificant Not very significant Not at all significant
Loss of income/excessive costs 24 23 2 0 0
Emotional distress 41 7 1 0 0
Relinquishment of puppy 35 11 2 1 0

*49 respondents

Interestingly, the financial costs related to purchasing an illegal puppy was seen as the least significant aspect. Emotional distress and having to give up the puppy were identified as the most significant impact on consumers. The impact on consumers was also noted by the experts, from financial loss resulting from medical treatment and quarantine costs, to emotional distress resulting from the loss of or concern for their pet [ EI2]. One expert also noted the distress experienced by consumers is often intensified by their interactions with the breeders or sellers post-sale. Specifically, threatening and abusive behaviour was reported by the majority of consumers the NGO engaged with, which prohibited them reporting the issue to the authorities. This expert also experienced threatening behaviour: " we had a police escort but that wasn't going to stop me… That just shows the depravity …of these people" [ EI6]. The fear and concern when interacting with sellers was also addressed by focus group participants.

Stakeholder Resources and Wellbeing

The negative financial impact of the trade is not just experienced by consumers, but by government, NGOs, legitimate businesses and the UK public, according to the experts. Enforcement agencies and NGOs must use their limited resources to regulate and respond to the harms of the trade. In contrast, the profits available, according to one expert agency, are greatly enhanced for those " who have no tax footprint and those who have a tax footprint but are either not declaring income from this source of income or are suppressing the amount they are declaring" [ EI10]. Furthermore, those engaging in the illegal trade are " benefiting from an unfair trading advantage" [ EI10], by not paying VAT, taxes or the breeding and selling costs common to the trade ( e.g. licensing).

The online survey also asked respondents what they felt the impacts are to professionals (Table 17). Again, monetary issues were considered less significant, with emotional distress reportedly the main impact. Survey respondents felt that in terms of wider implications (Question 32) that the illegal puppy trade had significant (23) and very significant (15) implications for public health.

Table 17: Impact of the Trade on Professionals and Organisations

Question 31 - What is the identifiable impact of the illegal puppy trade on professionals and organisations caring for dogs? Very significant Significant Neither significant nor insignificant Not very significant Not at all significant
Loss of income/business/greater pressures on organisational budgets 11 20 12 5 0
Additional costs to professionals or organisations 16 18 11 4 0
Increased income/business 13 16 15 4 1
Emotional distress 33 12 3 1 0

*49 respondents

Impacts of the irresponsible and illegal puppy trade are significant for the puppies and people involved, but also have much more far-reaching implications. Government, NGOs, businesses and society also experience negative impacts from loss of tax revenue from breeders and sellers avoiding taxes to extra expenditures to combat irresponsible and illegal trading; from emotional distress for veterinarians and dog 'owners' to public health threats from diseased or un-socialised dogs. Individually, each of these impacts would warrant further attention, but in combination, addressing this trade becomes even more of a priority.

Summary of Participant Suggestions regards the Impact of the Puppy Trade

1. Highlighting the negative impacts of the trade on the dogs, consumers and society should be a key part of education and public awareness campaigns. Illegal breeders and traders must be identified to consumers as offenders.

2. Enhance LAs and key stakeholders awareness of the wider negative impacts of the trade, in order to help them recognise the importance of regulating the trade and encourage them to prioritise resources to reduce the irresponsible and illegal puppy trade.

3. Animal welfare must be given greater consideration in regulating and enforcing the puppy trade. This can be done by making changes to the enforcement process, the welfare standards and the sanctions available.