An undercover investigation led by the UK’s leading dog welfare group has revealed a high level of corruption in the puppy trade.

Last week marked the beginning of a surge in puppies being illegally imported into the country from eastern Europe in time for the Christmas puppy buying rush.

Now Dogs Trust has released findings from its six-month undercover report, which revealed welfare risks imposed on both dogs and pet owners.

Investigative footage found breeders, vets and transporters in Hungary and Lithuania abusing the Pet Travel Scheme. European vets were caught on camera by the welfare group creating false pet passports and fake rabies vaccination records.

The report, titled “The Puppy Smuggling Scandal: An investigation into the illegal entry of dogs into GB under the Pet Travel Scheme”, found underage puppies were slipping through undeclared. A lack of checks at ferry ports and borders means the process is simplified for smugglers.

Paula Boyden, Dogs Trust veterinary director, said: “While ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’ remains our famous slogan, a puppy remains on the top of many wish lists.

“Unsuspecting British shoppers will continue to buy puppies online that may have been brought into the country illegally; meaning the risk of unknowingly bringing a puppy from eastern Europe with diseases and behavioural problems into the home is very real.

“The number of declared puppies entering Great Britain between 2011 and 2013 from Lithuania has increased by 780% and risen 663% from Hungary – this rise does not scratch the surface if you consider the number of puppies that are illegally smuggled and not accounted for in these figures.

“Dogs Trust is urging anyone considering a puppy to stop and think, ‘Where on earth is my dog coming from?’”

The group says puppies travel up to 1,000 miles in appalling conditions and don’t have the correct treatments or vaccinations, increasing the risk of serious disease.

Responding to the Dogs Trust report, British Veterinary Association president John Blackwell said: “The Dogs Trust report on the illegal trade in puppies highlights the serious concerns BVA has raised with Defra over the level of controls and checks at our borders. A recent survey of our members found one in eight had reported concerns about non-compliant passports to trading standards in the past 12 months.

“We welcome the introduction of new pet passports at the end of this year, which are designed to be more tamper-proof and improve traceability, but we remain concerned about the robustness of border checks, and the capability of trading standards to effectively deal with issues of non-compliance.

“When illegal activity is involved the risk of disease entering the country is increased. The UK is free of the tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis, which can have a very serious impact on human health. If passports are being altered and dogs are being brought into the UK under the radar we have no idea if they have been treated for the tapeworm.

“Even though the risk of incursion of rabies is low, if passports are being falsified we simply don’t know if animals are being effectively vaccinated.”

For the full article, look out for issue 48 of Veterinary Times.

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