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The danger of the 'puppy trade' in Cambridgeshire

The RSPCA is warning prospective puppy buyers to watch out for Christmas 'cons' - following seven reports of puppies potentially being victims of unscrupulous sellers in our county during lockdown.
Keith 1
Keith was found abandoned because of a deformed paw. Photo: RSPCA

As a new survey finds more than one in 10 people are planning to buy a puppy this festive season, the charity is concerned that a record number of dogs could be imported over the following weeks to meet the demand for Christmas puppies.

Now, ahead of an Defra inquiry into puppy smuggling today (Tuesday, November 24), the RSPCA is calling for tougher regulations to tackle the issue, which raises major welfare concerns for the dogs involved. 

Welfare experts are also issuing a warning to families who may be considering getting a puppy as a Christmas present to look out for breeders and sellers trying to cash-in on the festive rush and failing to take good care of their dogs. 

The RSPCA revealed it had received 575 reports relating to the puppy trade in England and Wales from March to October, as officers prepare for more investigations into unscrupulous sellers in the weeks leading up to Christmas, which is usually the busiest time of year for puppy sales. 

In Cambridgeshire during lockdown there were seven reports to RSPCA England about dogs that may have been victims of the ‘puppy trade’ during lockdown, and there are fears that the Festive season will see more examples.

RSPCA Chief Executive Chris Sherwood said: “Every year we see a spike in online searches and adverts for puppies in the run-up to Christmas and with lockdown continuing to drive up demand for dogs, we expect this year could see more families looking for puppies than ever before.

“While some of these families will take on loving rescue dogs or buy happy, healthy puppies from responsible breeders, we know that many will unknowingly fall victim to illicit and underground puppy breeders and sellers who prioritise profit over the health and welfare of their dogs. 

“Some people may unwittingly buy a puppy who has been bred in poor conditions in a cold, dark barn or warehouse without having access to the proper food, veterinary care and early life experiences that are so important for them to grow into happy and healthy dogs. Others may well have been born in appalling conditions on puppy farms abroad, taken from their mothers at just a few weeks old and illegally smuggled into the country to be sold on to innocent buyers.”

Puppy imports have soared since the start of lockdown as demand for puppies rises due to more families spending more time at home. Government figures show that the numbers of licences issued for the commercial import of dogs rose 87% from 14,075 (May-September 2019) to 26,4461 (for the same period this year). And this only accounts for the dogs that are being imported legally. The RSPCA suspects that many more are coming in illegally under the radar. 

The RSPCA is calling for tougher enforcement on the import of puppies at the borders and also wants the age puppies can be imported (either commercially or non-commercially) to be increased to 24 weeks in a bid to crackdown on the illicit trade in trafficking dogs in to sell them on to unsuspecting members of the public.

Worryingly, 42% of those interested in buying a puppy or dog said they would buy one bred and imported from another country and 38% said they’d buy one that had been smuggled into the country. But many dogs who are trafficked into the country to be sold on the underground puppy market have long-term health problems and behavioural issues due to their breeding and early-life experiences.  

In a new survey - carried out by Savanta ComRes on behalf of the RSPCA - 38% of UK adults said they owned a dog and, of those, a quarter (24%) got their dog since the start of lockdown and the remaining three quarters (76%) before lockdown. But 23% of respondents said they would be interested in buying a new puppy or dog in the next six months and 12% said they’re likely to buy a new puppy or dog for Christmas.

The survey also found 79% of UK adults agree that dogs shouldn’t be smuggled between countries and 78% agree that all dogs coming into the country from abroad should receive mandatory health screenings. While 52% agree that puppies and dogs should not be imported from other countries outside the UK under any circumstances.

The RSPCA is supporting Defra’s Petfished campaign encouraging prospective buyers to think about who is behind the pet and urges anyone thinking of getting a pet to adopt instead of shop. For those who wish to buy a puppy, the RSPCA encourages using The Puppy Contract to help find a happy, healthy dog. 

This winter, the RSPCA expects to rescue thousands of animals from neglect, cruelty and suffering. For more information visit and Join the Christmas Rescue #JoinTheRescue.