How we're working together to ban puppy imports in the UK

How we're working together to ban puppy imports in the UK

The RSPCA has been campaigning against the cruel puppy trade for many years. During this time, we've worked with other welfare organisations and campaigners to bring about a ban on third party sales, which came in earlier this year as Lucy's Law.

Unfortunately, a loophole still exists. Puppies are being brought in from abroad with no way of buyers or welfare organisations in the UK being able to check the conditions they have been bred in. We fear this trade is fuelling puppy farms overseas and we're calling on the Government to stop the importation of puppies younger than 24 weeks.

TV vet, Marc Abraham, on why he wants to see puppy imports banned

We've teamed up with TV vet, Marc Abraham, to #BanPuppyImports. Here he explains how he came to be a passionate campaigner against puppy farms:

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to help animals. From using a twig to extract a maggot from my pet tortoise's leg wound at three years old, to studying as hard as possible to get into vet school, life has always been about improving the lives of animals.

I'm incredibly proud of being a vet, and starting out with a day job of consultations and operations was everything I had ever dreamt of. Becoming an emergency vet followed for the next ten years before I returned to day work again. My day-to-day work was interspersed with a few TV appearances and some overseas volunteering trips too. These visits included helping Chinese moon bears, post-tsunami pets in Thailand, neutering Mumbai slum dogs, and even helping close down a dog meat farm in South Korea.

Lucy's Law banned third-party puppy sales in the UK

One fateful night in 2009, on call at my Brighton out-of-hours clinic, the campaign to ban puppy imports was born. Being at work and treating sick, dying parvo pups sold by a legal, licensed third-party seller lit the touchpaper for a ten-year campaign to change the law and eventually ban these dealers for good.

I got to work to change the law alongside some extremely committed campaigners, celebs, parliamentarians, various animal welfare organisations, and a very special, incredibly brave little dog called Lucy.

Admittedly, I began campaigning with no idea of what I was doing, or, indeed, what I was getting myself into. Entry to vet school relied on science A-levels, which was a million miles from history, politics, law, or any other subjects that could assist in making change happen.

As a 'grassroots' campaigner (defined as 'the common or ordinary people'), I had neither resources nor know-how, especially regarding influencing legislation. And so I relied on creativity and surrounded myself with like-minded, determined individuals and organisations, who all wanted the same result. During my decade campaigning for Lucy's Law, I made more than 300 visits to Westminster. I even found rescue dog, Dilyn, for the Prime Minister and his fiancée.

For our campaign, we used tools such as rallies, meeting MPs, social media and hashtags, occasional mainstream media, celeb-judged dog shows (Pup Aid), and the golden nugget of campaigning - the Government e-petition.

I was told by one MP: "This is the best way to get on the political radar", and their advice was spot on. Put simply, a Government e-petition with more than 100,000 signatures will almost always be debated in Parliament, giving the campaign the best chance of success - all with the potential to change the law. To reach Westminster, the e-petition debate is often vital for any progress to be made.

Ten years later, and we welcome Lucy's Law, which sees third-party sales of puppies banned. However, our work is not yet done.

The pandemic puppy demand exposed more problems

Fast forward to today, and a completely legal, albeit unethical and immoral, route to market was highlighted during the huge pandemic puppy demand. Sick puppies are being imported into the UK from overseas puppy farms without their mums. They're then being sold to unsuspecting buyers in the UK with devastating results.

Surely these puppy sales fly in the face of the Government's own advice to always physically see the pup interacting with their mum in the place he or she was born, I hear you ask? And you'd be absolutely right.

With pups being removed from their mums too early, being kept in horrific conditions (escaping inspection by UK animal welfare officers), as well as being transported for days by air and/or road, high levels of stress and disease is common. This is all before the pups have their filthy coats clipped, and are delivered straight to unsuspecting dog owners. Shockingly all of this is very legal.

You may recall, at the beginning of lockdown, the tragic death of a very high-profile pup called 'Mr Chai', purchased by a celeb couple from 'Love Island'. This led a fan of the show, Lucy Parkinson from Preston, to start a Government e-petition to try and stop this cruel trade. Unsurprisingly, in just over six weeks, the petition passed its 100,000 signature target.

With three months of the #BanPuppyImports petition left to run, I asked the RSPCA if they'd consider sharing it, in the hope of collecting even more signatures, and putting even more pressure on the Government to act; and they said yes.

The RSPCA, like me, have been campaigning against the puppy trade for years. Their inspectors see the horrors of cruel puppy farms first-hand and have worked to bring many who run these operations to justice.

It's clear that by all working together for animals, pooling our resources, and listening and responding to the public appetite for supporting campaigns such as this one, we can strengthen the process and make positive change for animals more likely.

The change needed to protect puppies and adopters from bad breeders

Every campaign must provide a solution, which in this case, is relatively easy. The Government must raise the minimum age of puppy imports from 15 weeks to around six months so that firstly, the pup's secondary (permanent) teeth are visible and almost impossible to fake (unlike documents). This makes detection/law enforcement possible.

Secondly, rabies vaccination can be given and relevant blood tests taken to prove pups are protected/immune, in effect reducing the risk to pups themselves (as well as to dogs and humans in the UK).

Finally, advertising/selling six-month-old pups is much less attractive to prospective buyers, and so will most likely reduce demand substantially, effectively killing the market.

Furthermore, it follows that by eliminating the motherless selling of young pups below six months old, illegally smuggling and selling pups will be much more difficult and their sellers will be automatically accountable.

Sign the petition to ban puppy imports in the UK

So, this World Animal Day, my fellow grassroots campaigners and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the RSPCA for officially and proudly getting behind this important campaign and therefore making the end of this particular form of legalised cruelty much more achievable. To add your support to the #BanPuppyImports campaign and petition, please sign and share today: Ban the exploitative import of young puppies for sale in the UK.

Marc Abraham is a multi award-winning TV vet, animal welfare campaigner, and author of 'Lucy's Law: The story of a little dog that changed the world'. Marc has long campaigned to end puppy farming in the UK, leading the successful Lucy's Law 10-year grassroots campaign in Westminster, resulting in new legislation banning commercial third-party puppy and kitten dealers in England. Marc is also Secretariat and Co-founder of the All-Party Parliamentary Dog Advisory Welfare Group (APDAWG).

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