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We lift the lid on unregulated puppy trade in England


Pomeranian puppy being take from a puppy farm © RSPCA

Unscrupulous puppy traders aren't only leaving behind them a trail of dead or dying puppies and heartbroken families, but also huge bills and a mounting strain on resources for charities, police and local authorities.

The demand for puppies drastically outweighs the numbers coming to market via legitimate and responsible sources.

The trade in cats and dogs is worth €1.3 billion

The annual market for puppies in the UK is unknown but estimates vary between 700,000 and 1.9 million. A recent study found the trade in cats and dogs in the EU was worth €1.3 billion annually.

The Kennel Club (KC) registers around 235,000 puppies each year but this is thought to be only fulfilling 30 per cent of puppies sold annually.

Our Puppy Report regarding the issue in England revealed that around 70,000 puppies come from the 895 licensed dog breeding establishments in Great Britain. Rescue organisations, including us, account for around 50,000 dogs, but the majority of these are adults. It’s thought only around 3,000 puppies are rehomed annually. And it’s believed only three to five per cent of puppies are sold via commercial pet shops.

Exposing the breeding, trade and sale of puppies

The huge gap between the number of puppies in demand and the number coming to market creates an opportunity for unscrupulous breeders, traders and traffickers to exploit members of the public, leaving a trail of sick and dying puppies behind.

The ‘Sold a pup? Exposing the breeding, trade and sale of puppies’ report estimates that around 30,000 puppies are being imported from the continent each year, while up to 40,000 are coming in from Ireland.

The report also estimates a total of around 430,000 puppies coming from unlicensed breeders each year. It’s thought that around 20 per cent of puppies are obtained from neighbours or friends who breed accidentally or to supplement their income.

That equates to around 770,000 puppies coming onto the market each year but the actual number may be double this.

Scrap the puppy trade

In response to an 88 per cent increase in the number of calls about the puppy trade over three years, we launched our Scrap the Puppy Trade campaign in England in October.

It aims to educate the public on sourcing puppies responsibly, as well as calling on the Westminster Government to introduce laws to combat puppy dealers.

Over the last decade, the demand for ‘designer’ cross-breed dogs and ‘handbag’ dogs has soared.

Our assistant director of public affairs, David Bowles, said:

It’s unclear if this demand for these specific breeds can be met from existing registered breeders within the UK. But what’s clear is that the puppy dealers are one step ahead of the regulators and have already responded to these changing demands and are sourcing these breeds from overseas or large scale commercial puppy farms.

The market and trade in puppies is largely unregulated resulting in welfare problems with puppies and the breeding stock, dissatisfied often distressed consumers, and a hidden economy.

Over the past three years, we’ve seen a surge in the number of calls we’ve received about puppy farms, and we’re also trying to cope with an increase in the number of dogs coming into our care from puppy farms.

Puppy rescued from puppy dealers' holding address

In 2013, we received 1,678 calls about the puppy trade. By 2014, this had risen to 2,323, and last year, we had 3,153 calls about the trade.

Investigating large-scale puppy operations

Our special operations unit (SOU) follows up on reports and evidence of unscrupulous puppy traders.

Chief Inspector Ian Briggs, from the SOU, said:

The RSPCA is the only organisation that has investigated the puppy trade in its entirety, from the breeding of puppies to the infiltration and successful prosecution of puppy dealers.

Our Puppy Report lifts the lid for the first time on the puppy trade in England. It reveals the impact on the health and welfare of the puppies and breeding stock, why the market is so unregulated, and what can be done to improve welfare.

Read an open letter to the unscrupulous puppy dealers written by our Millbrook Animal Centre deputy manager Liz Wood.

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