It is estimated that illegal puppy imports in to the UK have more than trebled in three years with 688 illegal dogs found in 2016 (BBC News, 2017). The biggest issue lies with todays “fashionable” or “cute” breeds such as pugs, french bulldogs and miniature dachshunds. These popular breeds are regularly advertised on the internet from £750 each, providing these puppy smugglers with healthy profits (DogsTrust, 2014).
In January 2012 the UK harmonised its pet travel rules with the rest of the EU to make it easier for pets to travel with several changes to the Pet Travel Scheme (The Kennel Club, 2017). The changes for any pets travelling within the EU now required the animal to be microchipped, to have a rabies vaccination with a 21 day wait before travel and a pet passport signed by an official veterinarian. (The Kennel Club, 2017).
Unfortunately, this relaxation to the Pet Travel Scheme has allowed puppy traffickers to take advantage of the loopholes and poor enforcement under the scheme to evade controls (The Kennel Club, 2017). Disguising puppies as pet dogs and forging vaccination certificates are tactics used by smugglers to sneak overly-young puppies across UK borders, often in poor transport conditions with minimal food or water. (The Kennel Club, 2017).
However, despite government efforts to control this issue with changes to the Pet Travel Scheme in December 2014, it appears they are not having the desired effect on this illegal trade (DogsTrust, 2016). These changes included a new minimum age of 12 weeks before a pet can be vaccinated against rabies as well as new vet certified passports containing more details about the pet’s owner and vaccinations. Furthermore, a recent survey of British Veterinary Association members found that 1 in 8 had reported concerns about non-compliant pet passports to Trading Standards over a 12-month period (BVA, 2014) suggesting there is still more that needs to be done to combat this issue. The major worry of all these illegal imports into the UK is rabies. The UK has been rabies free for many years but rabies is still present in many other countries, especially in eastern Europe. Rabies is a virus affecting many mammals and can be fatal to both dogs and humans. The virus is present in the saliva and is usually spread by a bite from an infected animal.
The clinical signs of the disease can range from increased aggression, hydrophobia (fear of water) and frothing at the mouth to a drooping lower jaw and paralysis. (DEFRA, 2014). With puppies illegally entering the UK from countries where the disease is present, especially Lithuania and Romania (DogsTrust, 2014), a rabies outbreak is the big fear for many veterinary professionals. The Kennel Club, the Dogs Trust and the president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA) are all calling for the government to apply tougher controls at UK borders to prevent these illegal imports. However, the BVA has also suggested the best way to cut off the supply of these illegal puppies is to stop the demand (BVA, 2014). Buyers are now being encouraged to ask more questions to breeders using information packs produced by the RSPCA and to never buy a puppy without seeing it with its mother (BVA, 2014).
BBC News. (2017) Illegal puppy imports 'more than treble' in three years. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-38825539 (Accessed on 11th February 2018) The Kennel Club. (2017) Pet Travel. Available at: https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/our-resources/kennel-club-campaigns/pet-travel/ (Accessed on 11th February 2018)
Dogs Trust. (2014) The Puppy Smuggling Scandal. Available at: https://www.dogstrust.org.uk/press-materials/dt_puppy_smuggling_report_v12_web(1).pdf (Accessed on 11th February 2018)
Dogs Trust. (2015) Puppy Smuggling The Scandal Continues. Available at: https://www.dogstrust.org.uk/puppysmuggling/final%20use%20this%20one%20puppy%20smuggling_2.8.pdf (Accessed on 1th February 2018)
BVA. (2014) Vets share Dogs Trust concern over illegal puppy imports. Available at: https://www.bva.co.uk/News-campaigns-and-policy/Newsroom/News-releases/Vets-share-Dogs-Trust-concern-over-illegal-puppy-imports/ (Accessed on 11th February 2018)
DEFRA. (2014) Rabies: how to spot and report the disease in animals. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/rabies (Accessed on 11th February 2018)
Public Health England. (2017) Rabies risks in terrestrial animals by country. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/rabies-risks-by-country/rabies-risks-in-terrestrial-animals-by-country (Accessed on 1th February 2018
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