Published: 06:00, 31 March 2021
| Updated: 09:13, 31 March 2021
A springer spaniel intercepted at a Kent port as it was being smuggled into the country has become the 1,500th puppy rescued by a charity scheme in just over five years.
Befa was one of five pups found stashed in a car carrier at the Port of Dover. Sadly, three of the others died shortly after being discovered.
Now the Dogs Trust is calling for more government action to stop puppy smuggling following a surge in demand for dogs during the pandemic lockdowns.
Paula Boyden, veterinary director of Dogs Trust, said: "The demand for dogs during lockdown has further exacerbated the problem and we know that those we care for are just a small proportion of those that make it into the country illegally.
"Now that the UK has left the EU, there has never been a better time for the government to raise the minimum age for puppies to be imported into the UK to six months to help make them less desirable.
"We also want to see tougher penalties for smugglers, as only a handful of cases have ever led to a prosecution, with paltry penalties that are no deterrent.”
Befa was by chance the 1,500th pup that has come through Dogs Trust’s Puppy Pilot scheme, set up in December 2015 to rescue illegally imported pups and rehabilitate and rehome them.
She was found with four other puppies at the Port of Dover in January, the others being a second springer spaniel, two Labradors and one dachshund.
They were seized by the authorities after being illegally transported into the country from Slovakia, having travelled thousands of miles across Europe.
The dogs were in a small car carrier in the back of a van.
All five were no older than five weeks – well under the minimum 15 weeks that puppies must be to legally be imported into the UK. The spaniels weighed around 2kg and the Labradors around 3.7kg.
Three of the dogs contracted the contagious canine disease parvovirus and died within a few days of being found and a fourth, black labrador Tara, was also taken ill but survived.
She and Befa are now being rehabilitated before being found permanent homes.
Since Puppy Pilot began the street value of the dogs intercepted is more than £3 million.
In 2020, Dogs Trust saw a 66% increase in animals coming through the scheme compared to the previous year, up from 204 to 338.
In Kent, this February, there was a 62% increase in the number of adverts for the top five breeds of puppies Dogs Trust most commonly has seen on Puppy Pilot, compared to the same period last year.
The charity is calling for the government to raise the minimum age for puppies to enter the UK to six months and increase penalties for those caught illegally importing dogs.
Puppies are smuggled into the UK for sale with either no or falsified paperwork and often without having received the necessary treatments, including rabies vaccinations.
They are forced to travel for long journeys in squalid, cramped conditions with no toilet breaks, no food and insufficient water.
Dogs Trust says that another disturbing and increasing trend is heavily pregnant dogs being transported illegally into the country, causing suffering and health implications to both mum and puppies.
Not only will importing one dog attract less suspicion at the border, but as responsible buyers will ask to see the puppies with their mother, this tactic allows criminals to give the impression of being legitimate breeders and avoid being reported to Trading Standards.
Ms Boyden added: “We are urging people to be patient when buying a puppy and follow our advice to see the puppy with their mum and siblings more than once - even if that is over video call due to current restrictions.
"Check all paperwork carefully and if something doesn’t feel right, walk away and report it to Trading Standards.”
For more information about puppy smuggling and buyer advice visit dogstrust.org.uk/dogfished/about