House of Commons debate on puppy smuggling

A recent House of Commons debate has highlighted the serious and increasing problem of puppy smuggling into the UK.

Britain is a major target for puppy smugglers, commonly from eastern European countries and Ireland. Due to the high purchase prices for breeds such as Pugs, Bulldogs and Dachshunds, rates of importation of such breeds are increasing at a furious pace. 

Although importation of puppies is allowed for commercial purposes and for pets authorised for free movement under the EU Pet Travel Scheme (PETS), loopholes in the system are being exploited by puppy dealers looking to make quick cash – which can equate to thousands of pounds per puppy. In fact, during the debate, it was stated by Patricia Gibson (SNP) that “puppies are the third most valuable illegally traded commodity in the EU after drugs and arms.”

Sadly, with the animal’s welfare often of little concern for the dealer, puppies involved in smuggling tend to be bred and transported in horrendous conditions. The longer-term impact is very bleak too, for the puppies’ parents and of course the smuggled puppies; frequently suffering a lifetime of health and behavioural problems, some dying soon after they join their new owners.

On November 1st, 2017, ministers from around the UK met for an hour-long debate on puppy smuggling, where strategies to minimise the problem were discussed in detail. The key ideas to combat the issue included:

  • Amending PETS to raise the age limit of puppies travelling – currently set at 15 weeks. An older minimum age would enable border officials to more easily spot any puppies travelling, therefore blocking the more desirable, younger dogs (some as young as four weeks) being imported under falsified PETS documentation.
  • Introducing stricter fines for dealers. Currently the fine is not comparable with the financial gains a dealer can make. During the debate Mr Alister Jack (Cons) commented, “40 (puppies) in a van can bring in £40,000. Yet the fine is £500.”
  • Educating the public in responsible puppy-buying. Providing clarity that the onus is on owners to find their puppy responsibly, pointing out red flags and encouraging purchase from official rehoming organisations and responsible breeders.
  • Enhancing Government checks at ports – visually and also outside of office hours.
  • Improving cooperation between UK and overseas law enforcement agencies and border and immigration resources. Also targeting overseas vets supplying fake passports.

The good news is that this vital puppy smuggling debate has now been held, as changes proposed and discussed could make a significant difference to the welfare and fate of so many puppies.

It is now time for legislation to reflect and support the points made in the debate. Until this next step happens, instances of puppy smuggling are expected to continue to rise – to the significant detriment of the dogs involved, their future owners and welfare organisations, both emotionally and financially.

To read the full debate, visit