• Check the puppy’s background
  • Meet the puppy’s mother and siblings
  • At the very least, ask to see the paperwork for vaccinations

Writing for LV= pet insurance, Susie Kearley (@susiekearley) reveals how you can steer clear of the illegal puppy trade, with the help of the RSPCA (@RSPCA_official).

Source your puppy carefully

Despite the Dogs Trust slogan, demand for puppies peaks in the run-up to Christmas, with illegal puppy smugglers taking advantage. In fact, in November an RSPCA Cymru operation saved almost 100 puppies from smugglers.

Smugglers fulfil Christmas orders for certain breeds of dog, which are taken from their mothers too early and smuggled into the UK – sometimes in terrible conditions – having had little food or drink on the journey.

Those who survive the journey are seized at customs if they’re spotted by Animal and Plant Health Agency officials. They are then taken on to the Dogs Trust’s Puppy Pilot Scheme, where they receive any necessary medical treatment while in quarantine and, eventually, go on to find new homes. 

Smugglers are experts at evading detection, and many puppies are successfully trafficked into the UK and sold to unwitting buyers. Charities such as the RSPCA are trying to raise awareness of this problem and engage the government in actively stamping out the trade.

Top tips for buying a puppy

If you’re considering buying a puppy, make sure you’re not inadvertently supporting this cruel trade. The RSPCA says you should:

  • Always make sure you see mum and her pups together, in their home
  • Never buy a puppy if you have doubts about the breeder or situation
  • Have more than one meeting to make sure that you and the dog are compatible
  • Ask to see all relevant certificates for puppy vaccinations, microchipping and worming
  • Remember that a responsible breeder will answer all your questions, and have some of their own!
  • Check out the RSPCA’s top tips on finding a good breeder.

A responsible breeder will not ask you to meet in a car park, or pressure you into a sale. The dog should be a healthy weight. If something seems wrong, it probably is: don't accept that it’s ‘normal’. 

Check out the RSPCA’s advice on buying a puppy here

A dog running in some snow

Toby, one of the dogs saved in the RSPCA’s November operation

What to do if you have concerns

‘If someone is concerned that their puppy may have been illegally imported or may have come from a puppy farm then we’d urge them to get their dog seen by a vet as soon as possible,’ says RSPCA spokesperson Amy Ockelford. ‘We’d also urge anyone who is concerned about the breeder of their puppy to contact their local Trading Standards and report any welfare concerns to the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999.’

The RSPCA’s dog welfare expert, Lisa Hens, adds: ‘Unfortunately, there are many people out there who are willing to put profits ahead of the health and welfare of the dogs they are breeding and selling. This is why we’d urge the public to be extremely careful when looking to buy a puppy.’ 

‘We would encourage anyone thinking of getting a dog to visit their local rescue centre first. But, if they are intent on buying a puppy, we would advise them to do a lot of research before choosing a breeder. Prospective buyers can use the Puppy Contract to help them source a happy and healthy dog, and for tips on the right questions to ask and the warning signs to look out for. 

‘Anyone who is concerned about the conditions they see a puppy being kept in or who is suspicious of the seller should walk away and report their concerns to us and their local Trading Standards.’

Tackling trafficking

The RSPCA’s assistant director of public affairs, David Bowles, is also involved in the campaign to end puppy trafficking – and you can get involved too.

‘Puppy trafficking is big business,’ he explains, ‘with dealers exploiting the current lack of enforcement at our ports and making huge profits bringing in large numbers of highly sought-after puppies.

‘Many buyers won’t be aware of the conditions their puppy has been bred and raised in, nor where their puppy has come from. They are effectively buying blind.

‘Many of the puppies being imported are too young to have been removed from their mothers and have not been vaccinated against disease. Some puppies die in transit and many fall sick or die shortly after purchase, leaving their owners heartbroken and lumbered with huge vet bills.

‘While there is a demand for cheap, pure-bred and fashionable crossbreed puppies, breeders, dealers and traders will find a way to sell them. We believe that if we are to seriously tackle the poor breeding and illegal trade in puppies, the tap needs to be switched off. We need to see an overhaul of current legislation and improved enforcement which tackles the root causes of the problem.’

Would you consider adopting? 

If you’re considering getting a puppy, do your homework before choosing a dog. If it’s for someone else, make sure that the recipient is fully engaged in the process. The Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, RSPCA and Dogs Trust has many beautiful dogs looking for forever homes.