Puppy import trade 'shocking'
A charity has uncovered a "high level of corruption" and "shocking" animal welfare following its investigation into the trade of puppies from eastern Europe to the UK.
The Dogs Trust has released footage which it says shows criminal breeders, vets and transporters in Hungary and Lithuania abusing the Pet Travel Scheme, which allows pet dogs, cats and ferrets to enter Britain without quarantine.
European vets were caught on camera creating false pet passports and rabies vaccination records.
The charity revealed how under-age puppies slipped through the net undeclared due to a lack of checks at ferry ports and borders, enabling breeders to make up to £100,000 a year.
It also found that some puppies are forced to make journeys of more than 1,000 miles in appalling conditions without suitable treatments or vaccinations, increasing the risk of spreading diseases such as rabies in the UK.
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 which 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?'
"Buyers must be vigilant, as a puppy brought in from eastern Europe could cost far more than expected. Should a puppy be identified by your vet as an illegally landed foreign import, you could be faced with additional vet fees and have to pay for quarantine costs - we have seen first-hand dogs being abandoned for these reasons."
Dogs Trust is urgently calling on the Government to h ave a co-ordinated approach to the enforcement of the Pet Travel Scheme from ferry companies and Eurotunnel to government agencies.
It also wants the i ntroduction of a strict penalty charge and deterrent for those caught illegally bringing dogs into Britain.
A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: " Responsibility for stopping the illegal movement of puppies begins in the country where they are born, and we are writing to the authorities in Lithuania and Hungary to remind them of their duty to ensure passports are correct and the welfare of pets intended for sale is safeguarded.
"Every pet travelling with its owner on an approved route is checked for compliance with the pet travel regime and the Border Force carry out a wide range of checks on animals arriving in the UK.
"Stringent penalties are already in place for those that breach the law by smuggling animals or using false documentation. Changes to the pet passport scheme this December will further strengthen the system across the EU by increasing traceability and making the pet passport harder to forge or tamper with.
"People in the UK can also help end this trade by insisting to see a puppy with its mum, which is the best way to ensure the dog's welfare."