A multi-agency operation to tackle the illegal puppy trade is under way in Wales. The crackdown follows investigations led by National Trading Standards (NTS) and Trading Standards Wales which indicate a sharp increase in illegal puppy farming since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The operation began last week, with the seizure of 15 dogs which were found injured or seriously suffering due to their poor living conditions. Nearly 200 more dogs are being signed over by an alleged illegal puppy farmer. Assets of the seller have been frozen under the Proceeds of Crime Act whilst the investigation continues.
The operation was spearheaded by the NTS Regional Investigation Team (Wales) and Trading Standards Wales. The dogs are currently being rehomed with the support of Dogs Trust, RSPCA, West Wales Poundies and Hope Rescue.
Enforcement action against unlicensed puppy dealers follows a sharp increase in illegal puppy farming, reported by NTS in its annual Consumer Harm Report. According to the Trading Standards intelligence database, puppy farming incidents more than tripled last year, with 1,220 logs reported in 2020/21. This is an increase of 881 from the previous year (339 intelligence logs were recorded in 2019/20).
Gareth Walters, Trading Standards Wales Strategic Lead for animal health and welfare said: “Unlicensed puppy dealers prioritise profit over animal welfare in order to generate the maximum amount of profit for the absolute minimum amount of effort and investment. The trade is attractive because of the large profits, with designer breed dogs having average price tags of £2,000, but often selling for £5,000 and stud dogs commanding fees even higher.
“As with other types of illicit trade, the people involved are often engaged in other criminal activity, including the distribution of illegal drugs, money laundering and tax avoidance. Dogs are just a commodity.”
Clive Jones of the NTS Regional Investigation Team (Wales) said: “In recent years the dog breeding industry has been infiltrated by unscrupulous individuals, often involved in other criminal activities, who sell puppies obtained from illegal puppy farms. The pandemic has increased demand and subsequently the profits and sharp practices of criminals.
Posing as breeders, unlicensed dealers advertise puppies in newspapers, magazines and, most commonly, online. They lure consumers by promoting the fact that the puppies are complete pedigrees; however, this does not guarantee quality. Many consumers then find themselves having to pay a high cost, both financially and emotionally, for puppies reared in awful circumstances. When this happens, consumers have little or no chance of receiving compensation, particularly as the majority of transactions involving puppies are cash in hand.”