How Online Loopholes Fuel the Cruel and Illegal Puppy Trade in the UK

dogs in cages
dogs in cages

A NEW report by an animal welfare organisation reveals that almost half of all puppies sold on Gumtree were illegally imported from Eastern Europe, where they were bred in poor conditions and transported thousands of miles in cramped cages.

The report, titled ‘Tricks of the Trade: the truth about the illegal puppy trade in the UK’, was released today by FOUR PAWS, a global animal welfare organisation that campaigns against animal cruelty. It exposes the shocking evidence of abuse and deception that many puppies and their buyers face in the UK.

According to the report, the demand for puppies has soared since the start of COVID-19, with 3.2 million families welcoming a pet into their home. Many of these pets were acquired online, with over 24,000 adverts for dogs circulated in just 12 months (between June 2020 and June 2021), a 732% increase from the previous period.

However, many of these adverts hid a dark reality behind the cute photos and promises of quick delivery. The report found that almost a third of all online classified adverts selling dogs were attempting to trade in illegally imported puppies, with Gumtree being the worst offender. Almost half of all puppies sold on the platform were found to be illegally imported into the UK.

The report also revealed that many puppies were sold below the legal age of 15 weeks, which is required for importing dogs into the UK. Almost a third of puppies sold below the age of seven weeks were advertised through Instagram, compared with just 7% of puppies aged nine weeks or older.

The report warns that these young puppies are taken from their mothers far too soon and subjected to long and stressful journeys across borders, which can have serious consequences for their health and development. Many of these puppies are also bred in squalid conditions, where they suffer from diseases, parasites, and malnutrition.

The report also exposes the tricks of trade that unscrupulous breeders use to dupe unsuspecting buyers, such as forging documents, using fake addresses and phone numbers, and relying on connections with organised crime. The report urges buyers to be extra vigilant when looking to buy a puppy online and to follow responsible breeding and buying practices.

The report is supported by a foreword from Marc Abraham, a veterinary surgeon, broadcaster, author, and animal welfare campaigner who has campaigned tirelessly for Lucy’s Law, which bans the sale of puppies by third parties in England. Abraham calls the illegal puppy trade “a greedy trade lacking in any compassion or transparency” and praises FOUR PAWS for exposing its horrors.

Emily Wilson, FOUR PAWS UK Head of Campaigns said:

“We always advocate for adopting a dog whenever possible but appreciate that this isn’t always possible. When considering buying a puppy online, we cannot stress enough just how important it is to think before you click. The shocking findings in our new report highlight the ugly truth behind the trade and how illegal breeders push dogs and their puppies to their physical limits to make as much profit as quickly as possible. With our report finding many of the Eastern European breeders investigated to be offering to falsify puppy documentation, we urge people to be extra vigilant when looking to buy a puppy online.”

Wilson also criticised the lack of restriction that both social and sales platforms possess when allowing the listing of living beings in adverts. She said: “An oversight taken advantage of by a trade that exploits both animals and humans alike.”

The report calls for stricter regulations and enforcement on online platforms that sell pets, as well as more public awareness and education on the issue. It also urges buyers to adopt from reputable shelters or rescue organisations or to buy from responsible breeders who follow ethical standards.

You can read the full report here: [Tricks of the Trade: the truth about the illegal puppy trade in the UK]

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