I was horrified to read a report recently from the Dogs Trust about the latest figures of puppy smuggling into the UK. Recently, nearly 100 puppies were seized in just one week at the UK borders. Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg and it is expected that many more pups will be smuggled in over the next few weeks on the run up to Christmas. The current legislation by DEFRA falls astoundingly short in deterring puppy smugglers- the maximum sentence is three months for puppy smuggling currently in the UK! Relaxed pet travel rules from 2012 have made it easier for pets to travel across Europe and inevitably be exploited by ruthless individuals.
So what happens when a puppy is illegally brought into the UK and why are we so concerned about this? Recent undercover charities have revealed the true extent of the horror for these animals. Puppies are bred in huge numbers, from bitches who are kept in cramped and dirty conditions with no access to the outside. She won’t be wormed, vaccinated against dangerous diseases or given any comfort or love. When she becomes sick from the intensive breeding process, she is often killed inhumanely.
The pups themselves are also kept in unimaginable conditions. They will be removed from their mum at a crucial stage of development. Often, these puppies are also separated from their litter mates as it is easier to smuggle smaller numbers of pups through the borders. They will travel in cramped and dirty conditions with inadequate food and water. Often, they have to eat their own faeces. Many will die. There are reports that these young puppies are sedated with illegal drugs to keep them quiet on the journey to avoid suspicion.
Apart from the emotional and physical trauma these animals endure, illegal puppy smuggling also has an impact on human health. When puppies are illegally transported they will not have the necessary health checks to ensure they are free from disease. The obvious disease risk of rabies is well known but there are other emerging diseases which have a direct impact on human health. The tapeworm Echinococcus Multilocularis can affect humans and can cause fatal liver damage. There are also diseases which can spread to other animals and unfortunately, we are seeing more of these conditions previously not seen in the UK like Babesiosis and Leishmaniasis from ticks.
Animals who are found to be imported into the UK illegally, or with forged documentation have to be quarantined for months which can cost new owners thousands of pounds. No price can be put on the emotional trauma to these poor puppies and to their unsuspecting families who have welcomed the pup into their home.
How do we fight this battle together to keep our pets and ourselves safe?
The key is information and education. Don’t get sucked into the sob story or feel you are ‘rescuing’ a puppy from the breeder. You are only increasing the demand for more pups and allowing smugglers to make significant amounts of money from animal suffering. When going to see a puppy, there are a few things to look out for.
Pups should be with their mum for at least 8 weeks. However, new evidence is emerging that puppies who stay with mum for longer than this develop better both physically and emotionally. At my clinic, we advise the longer the better!
You should always see the pups with mum. If you visit a puppy and the mum is `out for a walk’ the alarm bells should start ringing. Don’t be satisfied until you have seen mum interacting with her puppies. Some unscrupulous people will bring in another dog to pose as mum. Carefully watch to see how she is interacting with her puppies. Mums should be older than one year and less than 8 years. Legally, dogs should have no more than 6 litters in a lifetime.
ASK ASK ASK- ask about worming and vaccination status. All breeders should worm their puppies every 2 weeks until they are 8 weeks old. Ask to see what wormers they have given and don’t be afraid to call your vet to check- that’s what we are here for!
Legally, all puppies must now be microchipped by 8 weeks old. Ask to see the microchip details, and if this was done by a vet or a qualified person.
Ask about health screening- in some breeds, there are genetic issues which can pass down serious health problems to offspring. Do your homework to see if the breed you have chosen is susceptible to any inherited health problems. A reputable breeder will be knowledgeable and happy to discuss these things with you.
The Dogs Trust charity has an excellent Puppy Contract which you can print out when deciding on a new puppy and their website has invaluable sources of information for those thinking about a new puppy and who to contact if you have any concerns. Veterinary clinics are always more than happy to spend time with you if you have questions! Together, by sharing knowledge we can prevent the unnecessary suffering of thousands of helpless dogs. We can protect ourselves, our children and our beloved pets from the horrible diseases we are seeing in higher and higher numbers every year.
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