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


Formal Regulation

A number of issues were raised regarding the formal regulation of the trade, in particular experts referred to the unforeseen impact of legislative change, that these changes were implemented with more resources than are currently available, and the unanticipated change in the scale and nature of the trade. For example, one reported

…12 years ago when this was all getting debated and going through parliament this kind of puppy farming was not an issue …it's got a little bit of legislation but nobody bothers about [it] because it's mainly local authorities that should be doing it [ EI4].

Experts suggest there is a pressing need to map out the legislation and strategy with the present economic situation in context to improve the " woefully inadequate" response currently in place. As one expert explained, it is difficult to determine how successful the current legislation is, as certain aspects work well, but it does not stop the illegal trade from occurring:

And being able to get the problem sorted out so that it's not a public health risk and things like that, yes, we can do that successfully, and I would say that's the vast majority of cases we manage to get that sorted out. But getting to the actual, kind of, nub of it in terms of where it's all happening… we can't really do that [ EI3].

I mean we've had a number of, if you want to call them - successful, where we've had to get the dogs quarantined, get everything sorted out and the dog then gets returned and things like that, is that successful? We'll really know further down the line in a lot of cases because of identifying the seller and getting them to stop doing it, which I think would be what I would, you know, I think that would be successful [ EI3].

Overall, the legislation available is viewed as mixed. However, while experts indicated there was a need to re-evaluate and update the legislation, the regulations were mostly seen as fit for purpose, if enforced correctly. Experts also expressed the need for caution when looking at any changes to the regulation of the trade. For example, one expert commented that PTS " was intended to be a very positive thing for animal welfare, and it had the unintended consequence of opening the floodgate to this trade" [ EI1].

Consequently, further regulation of the trade requires a multi-strategy and multi-agency approach that is " overarching and look[s] at the number of different strands … it has to have a robust system behind whatever solution is put in place, and I think that starts with traceability and accountability and enforcement through perhaps a microchip [ EI1].

Furthermore, the experts indicated a delicate balance was required. For instance, one stakeholder indicated that more stringent laws would only impact upon legitimate and responsible breeders and thereby increase the hold of less scrupulous and illegal breeders. Such changes could impact the international, domestic and online trade. This caution was echoed by consumers; "but on the opposite side if you start to go down the road of putting too much paperwork in the way, are you not going to drive the ones who don't do it properly further into the dark" [ FG1]. What follows is a discussion on the legislation regulating the international trade, online trade and domestic trade, prior to moving onto the complications surrounding its enforcement.

Regulating the International Trade

The Balai Directive (92/65/ EEC) and PTS Regulation (576/2013) were identified as key legislation regulating the international trade and movement of puppies (see Table 1). However, most experts focused on the impact of PTS rather than the Balai Directive. In response to the online survey question on the impact of current regulations on the illegal puppy trade (Question 28), professionals indicated that both PTS and Balai made it 'easier' or 'much easier' (21:20) to offend or had no effect on the illegal puppy trade (17:22). The enforcement of these regulations at the border was viewed as even more problematic with 31 of the 49 respondents suggesting it made it much easier or easier to offend.

Table 11: The impact of PTS and Balai on the Illegal Puppy Trade

Question 28 - Do you think that any of the following make illegal puppy trading easier or more difficult? Much easier Easier No more or less easy Difficult Much more difficult
The current Pet Travel Scheme 13 8 17 7 4
Regulations for commercial movement 12 8 22 4 3
The way border checks are currently implemented 22 9 15 3 0

*49 respondents

All but one expert expressed concerns over the mis-use of PTS for commercial purposes. PTS does not provide a full traceability system which correlates pet and owner movement, for example, to ensure an individual cannot repetedly enter the UK with five different pets each time [ EI3], or that these 'pets' leave the country with their 'owner' [ EI2]. All but one of the experts acknowledged the loophole provided in allowing five puppies per person to enter the UK as non-commercial pets:

…it's not normal human behaviour to go out and buy yourself five puppies…over 90% of people in the UK have 1, 2 or 3 dogs, so you know, why is the limit set at 5, and surely by actually reducing that limit to 3 you're going to cover probably 95% of the population [ EI2].

Futhermore, PTS was deemed problematic as the mandatory microchips used to link the dog to their passport is not required to be registered. Thereby, dogs arriving into the UK with a microchip cannot be traced to their breeder. Drawing on his experience in Ireland, one expert [ EI5] suggested PTS and related microchipping legislation is problematic in the UK owing to the complexity of controlling data, especially with puppies regularly changing hands. He explained that changes made to domestic Irish legislation in September 2016 now provides "cradle to grave" traceability and prevents document forging. For example, in order to attain a Balai certificate for exporting puppies or a Pet passport ( PTS), traders and owners must produce a MODR (Microchipping of Dog Regulations 2015) certificate. The MODR certificate identifies that the dog is microchipped and registered in Ireland and the identity of the person presenting the document has been officially confirmed (for example through a passport or driving license with photo) and recorded. In order to receive a MODR certificate the dog must be microchipped and registered. It is illegal to own, sell, transport, acquire or permit another to acquire a dog without a MODR certificate. When a change in ownership occurs both the seller and purchaser are required by law to contact the microchip database with the change of information and proof of identity for the new owner. Thereby, the system provides clear traceability throughout the dog's life. That owners, consumers and professionals can be held accountable for their role in tracing the dog is central to the success of this process. According to this expert " your system in the UK is so flawed in who registers, who transfers ownership, how's this audited ... I'm not going to say you're never going to have it, you're not going to have a fool-proof system".

Most experts and many consumers argee that stricter regulations were required regarding the age at which puppies can be authorised for PTS, as it is too difficult to accurately age puppies at 15 weeks. Linked to this, the passports themselves were viewed by experts as too easily forged or reused. Many experts identified that although there have been updates ( e.g. added lamination) they remain too easy to falsify and recycle. One expert recalled, for instance:

…you can go in and buy a whole heap of pups and they will just say, 'Where do you want their passport to be from?' and take them out of the drawer, 'Do you want an Irish one or a Dutch one or whatever?' That's it [ EI5].

…there was quite a number of [Irish] vets who were willing to put their name on a seven-week-old vaccination saying that the pup was twelve at the time [ EI5].

Two experts suggested transgressions by professionals in providing forged passports should be severely punished [ EI3, EI5]. Another expert referred to positive changes by the Lithuanian government which permitted only government appointed vets to issue pet passports [ EI2].However, more recent investigations in Lithuania (2017) have identified unscrupulous vets offering sedation, resulting in puppies being covertly smuggled into the country, rather than illegally imported via the PTS.

As there is a variety of legislation that is available to regulate the trade (see Table 1 for summary) choosing the correct legislation to respond to the problem is crucial. For example, one expert explained their increased use of TARPS [Trade in Animals and Related Products Scotland Regulations 2012] rather than the current rabies importation, as the former provided a more " proportionate" and " pragmatic" approach to regulating dogs coming from Ireland (a rabies free country) to Scotland without being subject to the stringent quarantine rules [ EI11]. As part of their partnership with LAs, the SSPCA have been permitted limited authorisation to enforce TARPS, which is not possible with traditional rabies regulations. This is an important extension to the regulations, as enforcement would be very limited without this partnership, in particular because the enforcement agents are required to prove the origin of the dog:

…so you can guess what the people say when they arrive in Scotland, 'We got it in… no, these pups come from Northern Ireland', and it's up to us to prove otherwise. So we have not just the difficulty of catching them, then we have the added difficulty of proving that they came from Southern Ireland and we're managing to do that [ EI4].

Another important consideration in regulating the trade is choosing the approach to adopt within the legislation. For example, under regulation 32 it is written that authorities " have the option of turning the animals around, sending them back from whence they came or having them slaughtered" [ EI12]. There is further provision to seize and detain puppies to allow seven days for the production of further paperwork to clear up any anomalies. Due to the costs and conditions in quarantine, there has been increased use of the power in Scotland to return the puppies to Ireland rather than euthanising/quarantining them. However, in England, the most common outcome is quarantine [ EI3] because the country of origin is seldom known. If the owner cannot or will not pay for this, the puppy is put to sleep [ EI3]. Consequently, experts discussed the need for further provisions to 'dispose of animals before a court case'. While legislation is commonly used in court cases to dispose of livestock prior to the case, this is problematic due to the nature of the puppy trade. As one NGO expert explained:

…you can use it for pups but you're coming out of the criminal system and going into the civil system. The last time we tried to get an order to dispose of animals before a court case cost us £30,000 and we just haven't got that kind of money… When you do that with pups, we've got bulldog pups in now that the guy was aiming to sell at £2,500 to £3,000 each, you wouldn't get £50 for them they're so badly bred… you can value livestock very, very easily but pups is a totally different aspect [ EI4].

Regulating the Online Trade

There is currently no formal regulation of online advertising of puppies. Although all commercial sellers require a licence, there is little evidence to suggest those advertising puppies for sale online are licensed or that enforcement agencies regulate this marketplace. Focus group participants assumed there were controls in place which specifically regulated and monitored the online puppy trade and thereby felt the internet was a safe marketplace. However, none of the participants who looked online and/or purchased their puppy thereafter from an online advertiser sought proof of a sales licence. Most consumers expected there to be regulations in place which required the advertisement provider to check the credentials of the seller. Due to the limited regulation of online advertisements and the ease with which consumers can purchase puppies, some consumers argued for a ban on online third party sales. Focus group participants also pointed to the regulation of other 'products' online, suggesting examples could be taken from these to regulate the online puppy trade.

Although both stakeholders and consumers expressed the need for regulation, experts suggested a considered approach was required - with more emphasis on enforcement, raising consumer awareness and facilitating change in consumer buying. Concerns were raised regards banning online advertising, due to the complications of regulating a global internet. The Electronic Commerce ( EC Directive) Regulations 2002, implements the EU's Electronic Commerce Directive 2000 into UK law, which was introduced to boost consumer confidence by clarifying and harmonising the rules of online business throughout Europe. All European-based information society services (which includes online advertisements for sale) , are covered under this regulation. However, it is not clear how these regulations impact on the online puppy trade. Issues were raised by experts regards regulating the online trade. It is possible that by forcing UK online service providers to regulate their puppy advertisements, these companies will close down or move abroad, which would make regulation impossible. Further, it is likely to drive online sales underground or towards unscrupulous websites. For example, a PAAG representative explained:

…this is why we're lobbying government to say, 'Look we… what we've done is great, it's not perfect and we absolutely acknowledge that, but to be able to go to the next level we need some sort of legislation to be able to support it'. There are organisations you know, for example, Get Gumtree Animal Free that want to stop advertising online altogether, and I absolutely understand their motives. But the harsh reality is it's just not achievable, and if some of the websites go down all that will basically happen is you'll get less scrupulous websites pop up… the other worry for us is that the websites we have engaged [with], if we push them too hard they'll just say, 'Oh, this isn't worth it, we'll just walk away', and we're just left with a less scrupulous website [ EI3].

Regulating the Domestic Trade

Table 1 summarises the varity of domestic legislation relating to the puppy trade.There were mixed views from experts and consumers on the ability of this legislation to regulate the trade. For example, the sale of young dogs and cats legislation was deemed " very ineffective" due to poor enforcement and being out of date according to one expert [ EI4]. The Animal Welfare Act (in England and Wales) (2006) was deemed effective by one NGO due to the declining number of cases:

Now the legislation allows us to prevent it, so we're actually able to prevent a lot of things happening before it actually reaches a court … I mean a prosecution is always a failure [ EI4].

Yet another interviewee suggested it was " pointless" due to the lack of enforcement. The former expert felt the SSPCA's ability to order a warrant under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 successfully allowed them to seize evidence, seize pups, prosecute offenders and seek a ban from handling or coming into contact with animals in the future [ EI4]. However, this is not possible for NGOs across the UK:

I think the problem that the RSPCA are encountering is one, they have no powers under the Animal Health Legislation. They therefore it appears cannot be authorised under any other council legislation, so they couldn't be nominated in the way that we are, or certainly the councils haven't chosen to do that, so they very much have to rely on the local authorities. And because of the difficulties that the local authorities have in terms of finance and resourcing they just have to basically wait until the councils can do it and that causes difficulty [ EI4] .

Discussions on domestic legislation predominently focused on the traceability of puppies and licensing of puppy breeders. Traceability was identified as central to the successful regulation of the trade, as without this there is limited accountability and enforcement. Although microchipping is now mandatory in the UK (see Table 1) and puppies are required to be microchipped by their breeders, the system in place could be improved, according to the experts. For example, many consumers identified incidents where they did not receive a microchipped puppy or the microchip was not registered, which prohibits traceability. There is no reliable way for a consumer to check these details prior to purchasing their puppy (unless the seller agrees to bring it with them for a vet check). Furthermore, not all consumers were aware that their puppy should be microchipped, rather, they idenified the KC registration papers as a guarantee that the puppy was legitimate.

Traceability and a centralised database was central to the success of the aforementioned Irish compulsory microchipping system [ EI5];

…so we can have that "farm to fork" no problem [in Ireland], but as soon as it leaves here, your system in the UK is so flawed in who registers, who transfers ownership, how it's audited… as long as the dog doesn't leave this country, we know every single place it's ever been…I was in a lot of legal cases and it was never really a problem to prove cruelty or neglect, it was always a problem to prove ownership. That's the, kind of, key to it, you know, and it has been for 20 years [ EI5].

Traceability problems, according to this expert, stem from having an open market for microchips and microchipping database providers. UK microchippers can purchase, for example, Lithuanian microchips and implant them in UK puppies, thereby, the origin of the puppy cannot necessarily be traced back to microchip country of origin [ EI2; EI6]. It was suggested that if UK-only produced microchips were used, it would be easier to identify puppies brought into the UK. Although microchip database providers are required to share their data on request, with government agents, there is a common perception that they do not. There are several approved microchipping database providers across the UK, which differ from one country to another and which are not required to collate their data with each other. Consequently, it is not possible to easily identify the number or type of dogs microchipped or the number of licensed sellers. Easy access to this data would help illuminate the scale of the illegal trade and would improve traceability. This expert suggested a mini EPN (European Pet Network) database which pulls all microchips together in the UK and which filters into EPN in Europe would help improve the process. The most significant problem with the microchipping system is the issue of non-compliance, with breeders, sellers and buyers failing to register/update their details. The expert clarified that in Ireland, both the seller and purchaser are responsible for updating the details when the purchase is completed. The purchaser is required to provide evidence of their identify to the seller for the database and the seller is required to provide the purchaser with a microchipping certificate at point of sale.

With regard to the licensing of puppy breeding and selling establishments, most experts agree the legislation was " fit for purpose" if enforced correctly [ EI6]. However, this legislation is limited by those responsible for enforcing it and an inconsistency in licensing fees across Local Authorities, with some experts arguing that some LAs use licensing fees to avoid their enforcement responsibilities:

So there is no statutory… it's up to every local authority to set whatever charges they want. But they try to avoid it because if they take on the statutory responsibility they've got to employ somebody to make sure they do that. So it actually suits them having less licensed premises because they don't have to put the manpower in to do it [ EI4].

One expert [ EI8] predicted further licensing problems should the threshold for a breeding licence be reduced further in England to three litters a year, as the resources are not available to enforce this. In response to this, another expert [ EI7] suggested the KC Assured Breeder Scheme [ ABS] - which requires enhanced health and welfare conditions from breeders - be formally integrated into the licensing regime (further details available in Case Study Box Seven below). As a result, the LAs would not be required to inspect the premises of these breeders, thereby saving resources in order to target high risk breeders.

One expert went even further in their suggestion to alter the current system:

Dogs Trust believes that to tackle the irresponsible breeding and selling of dogs, anyone breeding, selling or transferring the ownership of one litter, regardless of any financial transaction or gain, should be required to be registered.

In addition to this, anyone breeding, selling or transferring the ownership of more than one litter, regardless of any financial transaction or gain, should be required to have a licence.

There should be a link-up between individuals and their address so that it is possible to identify situations where multiple individuals are evading licensing by individually registering to breed or sell animals on the same premises [ EI12] .


Experts also questioned the availability and use of penalties within the legislation, with some identifying them as "weak sanctions" and a "joke", which would not deter offenders [ EI5; EI6].

So there are huge profits to be gained, and the flip side of that is that the penalties are low/negligible; there's very few successful prosecutions when somebody is stopped for bringing in an illegally imported puppy [ EI2].

Another expert documented a serious animal welfare case involving puppy farming where the offender received " nine weeks suspended [sentence], 200 hours community work, [and] a 4-year ban, possibly [which he's appealing because] 'he needs to work with sheepdogs'" [ EI6]. This expert also explained that often inspection reports for breeding establishments will make recommendations when the breeder is in breach of the regulations and allow them months (or even years) to comply:

In Wales, the new dog breeding regulations came in in 2015, April 2015. To this day we still get inspection reports showing that the dogs haven't been health checked, that they're not all micro-chipped. Why? 'Oh, well, you know, we'll give them time. They've got another ...' They've only had two years [ EI6].

In order to avoid legislation without 'teeth', experts explained the move to use legislation in place for fraud and tax evasion to respond to the illegal puppy trade, as the systems supporting these regulations are more robust and provide a better range of sanctions, including significant fines. One expert referred to this as the 'Al Capone strategy':

I think there are various operations around the country where there's been focus particularly from HMRC who have a task force looking at this in particular and when that resource is focused on an issue and this is picking up on the tax avoidance element …there is resource there because the value of these transactions, then it seems to have a real impact and they tend…[to] see them in the press [ EI1].


Enforcement was deemed by the experts to be the most problematic aspect of regulating the trade.The issues stemmed from how responsibilities and roles were designated under the legislation and the resources available to enforce the legislation. The agencies responsible for delivering enforcement on animal health and welfare vary throughout the UK - with local authorities dividing up responsibilities within services, based on "historical" roles rather than best practice [ EI3]. Thereby, the agency to report to, or to request help from, for a breeding or trade issue is not obvious and reportedly creates confusion for experts, professionals and consumers:

And part of that…is actually knowing who to report to and actually being able to get hold of those people… So I think there's potentially a sort of an ever decreasing circle there that if you can't actually get to the people that you're talking to then you may not think about doing it [reporting or requesting help] next time [ EI2].

LAs were both highly praised and condemned for their enforcement efforts by experts and consumers [ e.g. FG4]. That LA staff carrying out inspections on dog breeding premises in England and Wales have over 150 varying job titles, just 28 percent of which include reference to 'animal', 'dog' or 'vet' was of concern [ EI8]. Consequently, licenses may be issued to "anybody" - including those with prior offences and those currently under investigation for breaching the regulations - due to inexperience and/or complacency [ EI4]. Furthermore, too few inspections are carried out to appropriately regulate the trade:

…five per cent of local authorities license 10 or more breeders in their area and 90 per cent license 5 or fewer breeders… over one third of local authorities did not carry out any inspections on dog breeding premises in 2015 and 68 per cent carried out 2 or fewer inspections. One dog breeding licence was revoked throughout 2014 and 2015 and over a 5-year period only 20 licences were refused, equating to less than half a percent per year. Fifty-eight percent of local authorities have between 0-2 members of staff who carry out inspections on dog breeding premises [ EI8].

Reporting on a KC trial in England, an NGO expert provided a comparison of breeders on the KC database who bred over five litters a year (and thereby should be licensed) to the number of breeders currently licensed in these LA areas. Their findings suggest there are significantly fewer LA licensed breeders than are currently operating - see figures in Table 12 below. Although there may be a number of variables which impact on this data (new approvals/delistings not included, slightly different timeframes, use of different business addresses and so forth), this is an important snapshot of illegal unlicensed breeders, especially as the KC only represent approximately 40 percent of all UK puppies bred.

Table 12: Comparison of KC registered breeders to LA licensed breeders

Number of breeders breeding over 5 litters a year on KC database Number of breeders the LA licenses currently.
Amber Valley 4 5
Breckland 9 7
West Lindsey 12 13
Charnwood 1 2
East Northamptonshire 1 1
Blaby District 2 2
Aylesbury Vale 1 2
South Somerset 1 1
Cheltenham 1 0
Basildon 7 10
Stoke on Trent City 7 5
Melton 4 3
North Devon 3 5
North Kesteven 4 6
South Derbyshire 3 11
Medway 1 0
Horsham 4 5
East Lindsey 12 12

Where official roles have been confered to other organisations, there have been mixed results. The aforementioned role of the SSPCA under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, under which they are authorised as an enforcement agency, was perceived to be a very successful approach. However, in Southern England, where commercial organisations have been authorised to make border checks, this is not believed to be a suitable partnership, rather, it was argued that the responsibility should be securely placed with a government agency.

…those checks are delegated from APHA to the carriers and we know that for the carriers it's an administrative check… And this is the challenge you know, it's supposed to be a document and identity check, but effectively it would be a bit like you or I walking through Heathrow with a paper bag over your head and saying, "Here's my passport, can I go through? [ EI2].

The issues around roles and responsibilities are directly linked to the limitations of resources:

I don't think anyone would have predicted the economic problems that have meant local authority resources have been so drastically cut, port resources have been drastically cut. When it [legislation] was put in place there's certain caveats and safeguards which have since been reduced and then since, have been further reduced [ EI1].

Even though licensing is full cost recovery, key legislation changes, such as compulsory microchipping and changes to the litter numbers requiring licensing, have required considerably more resources, whilst resources have, reportedly been reduced. Experts identified deficits in: agency funding and staffing, professional experience and training, coordination between agencies and quarantine facilities and capacity. One expert explained:

…you've got to think of all the other responsibilities and roles that we have as well, this is not our sole remit…So that's just part, this is just one part of a service that we deliver, and again when broken down it's also one part of the animal health remit that we have… I would say the vast majority are responding, it's reactive. There's very little proactive work being done on this [ EI3].

Thereby, while 'animal' issues are competing with 'more pressing' problems overseen by these enforcement agencies, at a time of ever-diminished resources, no matter how robust the legislation, it cannot be enforced appropriately with current resources [ EI1]. Furthermore, these agencies have repeatedly experienced reorganisation, which minimises ownership of the issue and makes it difficult to implement a coordinated enforcement approach. In fact, this creates confusion, whereby, even the experts find it difficult to do their job:

…even following up on a complaint or an issue, it can be very challenging. You know, with who to report that to, is it Trading Standards, is it RSPCA, is it the port, is it the microchip company? I think there can be quite a lot of confusion there when there's an issue with a sick puppy being bought online, or something like that [ EI1].

…as a vet dealing with perhaps a suspected illegal landing your natural instinct may be to contact DEFRA. But actually once an illegal landing is actually in the country it actually becomes a Trading Standards issue, it's not a DEFRA issue, it's not an APHA issue, which not every vet's going to be aware of. And the other challenge… is actually trying to get hold of Trading Standards… Well if you've got an illegal landing it needs to be dealt with now not in five days' time [ EI2].

Resource deficits also harm the animals involved. For example, if a puppy arrives into the UK without the correct paperwork or in breach of the regulations, the puppy will need to be placed in quarantine (if not returned to the place of origin or euthanised). Depending on the issue, this may involve the puppy remaining in quarantine for three weeks or more. At present, there are 17 authorised quarantine kennels across the whole of the UK - this includes one each in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Experts acknowledged the impact of too few quarantine facilities, with puppies being sent back, on long journeys, to the continent and long and costly journeys for the LA transporting the dogs and for the owners of the dogs. Although no figures were available on the rate of euthanasia of puppies in quarantine and experts believed this to be the least likely outcome for the puppies, there was a concern that the lack of facilities may lead to euthanasia of healthy puppies [ EI2; EI3]. These concerns have resulted in NGOs working in partnership with quarantine facilities; whereby they pay the cost of kennelling and enhance the welfare of the dogs (see case study one below).

When experts were asked who they felt should be responsible for the formal regulation of the trade, all agreed that it required multi-agency work, with one expert suggesting the complicated nature of the puppy trade requires that the government oversee this multi-agency work [ EI3]. Experts confirmed their involvement in multi-agency partnerships was predominantly a positive experience, which produced results and reduced costs. Among the many examples provided, three case studies of these successful partnershps are provided below.

Case Study One: NGO and formal enforcement agencies partnership in Welfare and Quarantine

So what we've basically said is look we don't want these puppies turned away because …there are welfare issues…so what we've said is 'Look, we'll underwrite the quarantine costs'. So what happens is if somebody stops with some underage puppies they are then aged by a veterinary surgeon, if they're deemed to be under 15 weeks they then go into quarantine. The individuals associated with that are given a period of time to pay the quarantine costs within seven or ten days. If they don't and the puppies are signed over to Dogs Trust, what we do with the quarantine kennels is we're putting extra resource into the quarantine kennels because you're obviously very familiar with that critical window in a puppy's life between sort of 3 and about 14 weeks when it's really important to socialise and habituate, so we're putting extra resource in to try and help that. And then when the puppies are 15 weeks they come to us and we responsibly re-home them [ EI2].

Case Study Two: NGOs, business sector and government agencies PAAG partnership for regulating Online Advertisements

We know a lot of these puppies are being advertised online. So the whole remit of PAAG is to try and work with online advertisers, and what we've developed is a set of minimum standards that the websites that we've engaged with are trying to adhere to those minimum standards. So, for example, not selling any underage puppies, making sure there's an appropriate photograph of the puppy with every advert, no selling of banned breeds, no selling of pregnant animals, no swapping of animals for a PlayStation or whatever, and we have a number of engaged websites, which is great…[ EI2].

I think the very fact that we're having this conversation is a really positive thing…that PAAG is so well supported from the trade, from veterinary organisations, from NGOs, from HMRC, from Trading Standards - that's a fantastic group. The fact that we can work with the websites who do advertise some of these pets for sale, and that they are receptive to working with us. But there are some based abroad that simply don't have to [ EI1].

Case Study Three: National and Overseas NGOs, enforcement agencies, government and business sector in Operation Delphin partnership for regulating the International Trade

I would say that the one thing that does seem to work is the joint work between the welfare charities throughout the UK and Southern Ireland. So under the umbrella of Operation Delphin, which was spearheaded by ourselves, all these welfare charities are coming together to adopt whatever approach is most suitable in their individual countries to address the issue… it's about trying to get all the organisations that have got a business to be, or some sort of assistance, to become involved at whatever level…what we are doing is we're pulling the whole thing together and getting whatever we can out of the organisations, even if it's just intelligence… councils are involved, the police are involved… ferry companies are very helpful…Well we've got memorandums of understanding for data sharing with the police, the local authorities, Animal and Plant Health Agency. A lot of people use data protection as an excuse for not complying… but in the main on this issue everybody seems to cooperate. And the advantage is, we hold all the intelligence. So if we hold it all these people that we're working with generally have a lot less than we do, so they're generally in the business if they want to do anything they want our intelligence so we're happy to work with them on the basis it's a two way street. And there is… generally speaking that isn't a problem, and there's channels in place for us to share easily and we do do under the you know, the handling intelligence network, it's an easy procedure to do [ EI4].

Operation Delphin - that seems to be a really good focused, targeted evidence based initiative to really hone in on a specific route and element of this trade and have a real breakthrough, and I think it's been really well publicised which is then a deterrent in itself…[ EI1].

The key Agencies HMRC has been involved with to date include SSPCA, RSPCA, USPCA, ISPCA, DSPCA, Police Scotland, Police Scotland (Port Unit), North Wales Constabulary, Border Force, Local Authorities from both a licensing and Trading Standards perspective both in Scotland and across the rest of the United Kingdom, DEFRA and APHA. There has been and continues to be a great deal of co-operation and co-ordination amongst the stakeholders previously referred to and Operation Delphin is an excellent example of this [ EI10].

Informal Regulation and Prevention Strategies

Whereas some NGOs are blended into the formal regulation of the puppy trade, the majority of their work involves informal regulation and prevention using a variety of strategies. Ideally, interest groups and consumers would also play an important surveillance and awareness-raising role. However, one NGO expert indicated that "w e go as far as we can to empower people to have a say but it doesn't do any good when it's going to people that couldn't give a damn in the first place" [ EI6]. In order to respond to apathy among adult consumers, education, particularly for children was deemed a high priority among NGOs as mentioned on page 44. Focus group participants also supported this [ FG22].


Local Authorities and Trading Standards were among some of the formal agencies, who sought to prevent the trade through education and advice for consumers. A recent campaign by Trading Standards was released prior to Christmas (2016), which involved press releases and placing information on all LA social media and websites to help raise awareness: "If you come across puppies that have been bred in a puppy farm share your story, this kind of thing been through Facebook…and top tips for buying a puppy" [ EI3]. However, NGOs provide the majority of frontline services that can be used to engage with and educate consumers. For example, NGOs have worked together to develop a Puppy Contract for consumers, which provides a standardised checklist and questions, which they can bring to their meeting with the breeder/seller (

Rather than general education on the puppy trade, all participants (experts, professionals and FG participants) mentioned an urgent need for consumer advice and guidance on where to purchase a legitimate and healthy puppy; essentially how to help consumers [ FG10; FG16; FG23] traverse the chaotic online marketplace and avoid illegal and irresponsible breeders and traders:

"I think there is a big piece where we need to talk about, "So, where should people get dogs from?" I think if we don't help tackle our internal domestic issues with dog breeding, then… and that is an animal welfare NGO issue with support from government, then we are opening the way for people to take advantage of that commercial need for this product" [ EI1].

According to one expert, education must focus on consumer impulse buying: " Folks say education is what's needed… we've done it and still people want an instant fix" [ EI6].

As part of their education programme, key NGOs conduct research which is used to educate consumers, stakeholders and government officials. For example, one NGO funds a longitudinal study called Generation Pup, which involves recruiting puppies up to 16 weeks of age and following them through their lives to compare how puppies from different parts of the trade develop over the next few years [ EI2]. Another aspect uses YouGov to gather data on how pet owners provide for the welfare needs of their animals, including how they locate their pets, what research they do prior to purchase and where they buy them and how they subsequenty look after them [ EI1].

Surveillance and intelligence

Surveillance and intelligence was also a key approach to informal regulation and prevention strategies by NGOs. Experts detailed their efforts to gather information - such as images and videos - both to help support the intelligence and actions of formal agencies and to raise awareness and thereby scrutiny among consumers. Informal surveillance has been crucial to regulating the online marketplace. According to the experts, while this is helpful, it is also inadequate. For example, initiatives such as PAAG analyse and advise companies on online advertisements. This was evident in our online advertisements research, which, again, involved monitoring seven websites over a 12-week period. Most of these sites had various protocols or advice, for advertisers to follow, designed to comply with legal requirements and to protect the welfare of the animals for sale. This included instructions about not selling puppies under eight weeks old (Dogs & Puppies UK, Gumtree), advice regarding domestic and business breeder advertisements and requirements (Pets for Homes), regular website monitoring for suspicious activity (Epupz), and advice to visit a vet prior to sale for health checks, vaccinations and microchipping (Gumtree). The Gumtree website also advises that any identified puppy farmers will be reported to the RSPCA and Trading Standards. Neither does this site allow dogs with docked tails or clipped ears to be advertised, or for advertisers to promote puppies as Christmas gifts. The Pets for Homes website screens all advertisements before they are made public to check they comply with the terms of use, with around 30 percent of advertisements submitted being identified as unsuitable for publication because they fail to meet standards (due to a failure to provide full ID, not including a photograph of the puppies, inaccurate descriptions and use of more than one account). The VivaStreet website advises that it may disclose information to law enforcement agencies if it is believed the website is being used for criminal and/or illegal activities. Although there are protocols and guidance (and in some cases monitoring) it is hard to determine the impact of these measures. An overview of the standards and challenges identified in the online advertisements research, in terms of compliance and membership with the PAAG Minimum Standards is provided in Table 13 below.

Although the PAAG Minimum Standards attempt to improve the advertisement of puppies for sale, there is evidence that providers are not reliably compliant across all standards. See Table 13 and also Appendix VI that includes more detailed information about compliance.

Table 13: Analysis of adherence to PAAG guidance of the seven websites monitored Oct-Dec 2016


Element of PAAG followed

Observations during monitoring


  • No indication website uses protocol
  • Pet sales prohibited
  • Small number of pets (including dogs) for sale


  • The PAAG link is not visible on individual advertisement pages. However, is mentioned on terms and conditions page with hyperlink
  • Found advertisement for stud dog (breaching rules).
  • Facility to 'report' advertisement

Pets for Homes

  • If an advertiser is breeding and advertising dogs for sale and requires a dog breeding license from their local council, the person needs to be registered as a licensed breeder on the site, and provide with a copy of the license. If site suspects that a licence is required and details have not been provided, we will report this to your local authority.
  • Photo of mother required
  • Location information required
  • Will not advertise stud dogs
  • Report function on each ad page
  • Pets must be at least 8 weeks old before leaving mother
  • Does not accept adverts for 'designer dogs'
  • Pets advertised must be located in UK and adverts advertising dogs brought for sale from outside the UK banned.
  • All pets for sale must be available for viewing with their mother (and ideally their father)
  • Need to declare status (private, commercial or rescue organisation status)
  • Advertisements for breeding purposes banned.
  • Advertisements of banned breeds prohibited
  • Does not allow courier service
  • Adverts found for stud dogs


Website down, but site had few advertisements for puppies available in Scotland.


  • Supports PAAG and website includes a link to PAAG.
  • Website includes links to Buyer's Guide, Rehoming Guide and Buyer Checklist.
  • Recent picture of animal/s for sale required in advertisement.
  • All animals must be at least 8 weeks old before leaving their mother.
  • A max. of 2 litters per year to be sold on site by any single seller.
  • Discourages advertisements alluding to breeding and stud dogs.
  • Adverts from puppy farms not accepted. Any such adverts found will be reported to the RSPCA and Trading Standards
  • Adverts for dogs with docked tails/ears not allowed.
  • Adverts for pregnant animals not allowed.
  • Adverts referring to sale of animals as gifts not allowed.
  • Adverts for banned breeds not allowed.
  • Report function on each advertisement.

Free Ads

  • Puppies must not be rehomed before they are 8 weeks old.
  • Bitches should only breed once they are more than 12 months old, only breed once a year and no more than 6 times in their lifetime.
  • We do not allow puppy farms. If you sell more than 4 litters of puppies in a year, by law you must have a "dog breeders license". Evidence of breeders licence required to place commercial advert.
  • Location on all ads
  • No shipping of live animals
  • Appear to check for puppy farms and ban those who advertise more than 4 litters a year who do not have a LA licence
  • Puppies must be 8 weeks old before rehoming
  • DOB stated on ads so age can be calculated
  • No advertisements for pregnant dogs
  • No link to PAAG to found on website
  • Not clear if ads are domestic, commercial or rehoming (no categories to select)
  • Allows couriering of dogs
  • Adverts for stud dogs found
  • Pregnant dog ad found
  • No report function found on individual adverts.

It was interesting to note that some consumers in our focus groups also became part of the informal surveillance society through breed specific Facebook groups:

…there is a Facebook group for people wanting to get mini Dachshund puppies and then … Also, if they notice people doing things like, spelling the name of the breed wrong or something, they'll post it on there, and warn people not to buy, saying "I saw this ad. Looks dodgy. Does anyone know anything about this?" So, they will make other people aware if there seems to be things going on, and also, because they are popular at the moment, there's thefts and stuff, so they steal them, and use them for breeding. They'll always put on if dogs get stolen so you can keep an eye out [ FG11].

Therefore, while regulations are thought by some to be fit for purpose, there are improvements that should be considered with regards to breeding, selling and online advertisements. Enforcing existing regulations, albeit challenging with current resources, would help reduce the irresponsible and illegal puppy trade, as would informal measures such as education of young people and consumers.

Summary of Respondents Suggestions on Regulating the Puppy Trade

1. Compulsory microchipping is only effective as a way of recording and tracing imported animal movement if it is designed for this purpose and changes of ownership are properly notified. Compulsory microchipping in the UK was only ever designed to reunite lost animals with their owners, it was not intended to be a full movement traceability scheme (as for livestock). The development of a UK centralised database or the requirement for UK databases to provide data to the centralised European database could help enhance traceability of puppies across the EU and UK. In order to facilitate traceability, accurate notification of changes in ownership by individuals is required, although this may be difficult to enforce. Furthermore, traceability could be enhanced through mandatory recording of microchips as a part of the PTS and Balai.

2. Review all domestic puppy breeding and sales legislation in line with the current economic and international context of the trade to identify if they are fit for purpose.

3. PTS acts as a loophole to traffic puppies into the UK - close this loophole by a) reducing the number of dogs permitted to travel with each individual and b) enhancing traceability of pets entering the UK to check they have also left the country when their 'owners' leave, c) increase the minimum age at which dogs can travel with their owners to make it easier for enforcers to age the dog and to avoid the transportation of puppies at their most marketable age. This could be achieved by increasing the waiting period for post-rabies vaccinations from three weeks to 12 (the higher end of the incubation period for rabies).

4. Regulation of online advertisements which encourages strong censorship and punishes poor enforcement. Encourage consumers to be part of the enforcement process.

5. Animal welfare must be a more central focus in puppy trade legislation. For example, 'disposing' of healthy seized puppies or placing them in confinement for extended periods while awaiting trial should not be appropriate options. For example, a standardised valuation of puppies (such as used for seized livestock) would assist in helping move puppies on while court cases are ongoing.

6. There are significant deficits identified in agency funding, resources and staffing, professional experience and training and coordination between enforcement agencies which counteracts the effectiveness of the legislation in place. Failure to enforce the legislation approporiately renders it ineffective. An evaluation of the resources available to enforce current and prospective legislation is crucial to developing an effective response to the illegal trade. In particular, resources and training must be considered in light of the growth and changing nature of the trade.

7. Review sanctions available in breeding and related legislation and broader legislation in order to appropriately respond to offenders in the trade

8. Develop further opportunities for multi-agency partnerships aimed at enhancing awareness and enforcement of the trade