Dogs can serve as a great tool in helping catch illicit traders, sniffing out contraband and leading their handlers to hidden caches of illegal materials. However, recent news from the U.K. suggests that dogs are themselves victims of this nefarious practice—the animals we know as “man’s best friend” are being traded illegally on a massive scale.
The country’s tax inspectors, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), say that they have collected more than 5 million pounds in tax from people breeding puppies illegally in the country. The investigation began in 2015 after animal welfare groups were expressing concern that “tens of thousands of puppies were being reared in unregulated conditions and sold illicitly every year.”
Welfare organizations tell us that dogs reared by illegal breeders often have health problems, diseases and behavioral issues. One in four puppies bought online dies before its fifth birthday and one in three gets sick or dies within the first year, according to the animal welfare charity the Scottish SPCA.
The industry causes financial harm, too. Illegal breeders often sell their animals on social media and don’t declare their earnings to the tax authorities. The problem is particularly bad in Scotland, where the illicit trade is estimated to be worth 13 million pounds a year. In the recent crackdown, two breeders in Scotland were given fines of £425,000 and £337,000, respectively. The Scottish SPCA says that last year nearly half of all animals they rescued were from puppy farms.
Another breeder in England, who was given a £185,000 bill, was a former judge at one of the world’s most famous dog shows, Crufts. Reacting to the news, the Financial Secretary to the U.K. Treasury, Mel Stride, said: "It is utterly appalling that anyone would want to treat puppies in such an inhumane way and on such a scale. It’s also deeply unfair to all of the legitimate businesses who do pay the right tax, and the total recovered by the task force is equivalent to the annual salaries for more than 200 newly qualified teachers.”
Cross-border alliances to fight back
As with many successful efforts to clamp down on illicit trade, partnership has been a key ingredient in the fight against illegal dog breeders. Operation Delphin is a multi-agency collaboration across the U.K. and Ireland, designed to tackle illegal puppy smuggling and the consequences it brings. U.K. and Irish animal welfare organizations, U.K. border enforcement and police and HMRC themselves take part.
Operation Delphin has already brought about many arrests in cross-border collaborations in recent years. A raid in 2016 led to the arrest of two people who were attempting to transport 100 puppies illegally to the U.K. from Ireland by sea. In 2017, 105 animals were rescued in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
The Scottish SPCA leads Operation Delphin. The head of its Special Investigations Unit, who cannot be named due to the nature of his undercover operations, said: “Last year nearly half of all animals seized by the Scottish SPCA were rescued from puppy farms, and I would urge everyone to sign the pledge #SayNoToPuppyDealers and send a clear message that this cruel trade has to end.”
Toward a more stringent regulatory framework
The U.K. government presented legislation to parliament this week that would ban the sale of kittens and puppies in England from third parties starting in spring 2020. Animals would have to be born and reared in a safe environment, with their mother, and to be sold from their place of birth. This would ensure that buyers are dealing directly with legitimate breeders and that puppies and dogs are protected from unsafe breeding farms.
Written by STOP: ILLEGAL