Demand for a furry friend rises during the holiday season, and the isolation brought on by pandemic lockdowns and remote working has increased demand throughout the past year.
These changes have led to puppy prices soaring since 2020, presenting opportunities for unscrupulous sellers to profit significantly from mistreated animals. It has also affected animal shelters, where there have been multiple reports of facilities running “at capacity” this year.
According to Animal and Plant Health Agency figures, more than 66,000 dogs were commercially imported into the UK last year, of which 843 puppies were seized at the border, up from 324 in 2019 – an increase of approximately 260%. The UK Government is considering legislation to provide greater protections for imported animals, including puppies. At the same time, the Local Government Association put out a call to the public to avoid criminal sellers.
Diane Bryson, Strategic Intelligence Analyst at Trading Standards Scotland, said: “Over the past year, the high demand for pets during lockdown has seen puppy prices rise dramatically and encouraged illegal traders to accelerate their activities. The current demand for dogs is outstripping legitimate supply. The marketplace has been infiltrated by intensive breeding establishments, inappropriate rehoming, illegal importation and unlicensed undisclosed businesses. Illegal puppy farming across Scotland alone is estimated to be worth £13m.
“Consumers who purchase animals from illicit dealers are in the vast majority of cases also being misled by acts of omission in relation to the provenance of the puppies they are buying.
“The illicit puppy trade is facilitated through online platforms, and it is highly likely that puppies being advertised in a misleading way is higher than reported. With the average cost of a puppy now being approximately £1,875, consumers could end up being over £3,000 in detriment as a result of purchasing a sick puppy.
“Trading Standards Scotland have been involved in a number of prevention campaigns throughout the year alongside partners such as the SSPCA and CTSI to try and raise awareness of the dangers of buying puppies from illicit traders.”
Paula Boyden, Veterinary Director at Dogs Trust, the UK’s largest dog welfare charity, said: “Buying an illegally imported puppy has huge implications for both the pups – who have to travel miles across borders in awful conditions – and the mums who are basically breeding machines. The sellers and importers care little for the dogs’ welfare and just want to make a quick buck. As a nation of dog lovers, we can help stem this problem and put a stop to the suffering of dogs.
“We urge people to be patient when considering welcoming a puppy into their lives and follow our advice, which includes visiting the puppy at home with their mum and siblings more than once, checking all paperwork carefully, and if something doesn’t feel right, walk away and report it to your local authority’s Trading Standards or the RSPCA. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”
- advice on what to look out for when purchasing a puppy online
- how to spot a puppy farm or smuggler
- the importance of checking credentials
- how to flex your consumer rights when making the purchase and where to report issues