Vets are being urged to help crack down on illegal puppy farms following recent successful prosecutions. Leading animal welfare expert David Martin says the court cases show it’s a battle that can be won.
David Martin, group animal welfare advisor for IVC Evidensia, was one of those involved in the prosecutions of a puppy-selling gang currently awaiting sentencing in Essex. A Basildon court heard shocking evidence of puppies found dead in a freezer. The four individuals pled guilty in May this year to offences in connection with the fraudulent sale of puppies, totalling £850,000.
“There’s a misconception with some vets where we think the illegal puppy trade is something that we just need to put up with,” said Martin, a leading vet and clinical director at Brownlow Veterinary Group in Shropshire.
“There’s an urban myth that perhaps no one does anything about it when we complain, but the success stories show that doesn’t need to be the case.
“It shouldn’t be onerous on a vet’s usual duties. As professionals we do have to signpost clients who have welfare concerns about a puppy they have purchased, to report their concerns or worries. And if a vet has concerns about one of its clients that they may be breeding illegally, then we need to consider whether we need to report it.
“There is a lot going on to stamp it out and prosecute it, from local authorities, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and the police. Big steps are being taken to put these people out of business and, in many cases, behind bars.”
IVC Evidensia, which is one of the world’s leading veterinary providers and has veterinary practices throughout the UK, is also advising pet owners on how to spot a responsible dog breeder and has launched a guide to help.
Unscrupulous gangs took advantage of the massive increase in demand for puppies during lockdown. Millions of households added a pet during the pandemic, with the dog population shooting up by around 25 percent. The shortage of high-quality puppies provided the gangs with the opportunity to cash in.
“This was a problem pre-COVID-19, but it has got drastically worse,” said Martin. “This is organised crime, with groups actively using the puppy trade to make large sums of money.”
Martin spent three years as an expert witness working on the Essex case which saw all four individuals enter guilty pleas in May this year, two to fraud and two to acquiring criminal property. Two also indicated guilty pleas to offences under the Animal Welfare Act.
In another case, a police raid on a property in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, in July 2021 found 17 puppies in dirty conditions in crates in the garden. One pup had to be rushed to vets to remove a tight black cable tie around its neck. All the puppies were taken into care by the RSPCA and subsequently rehomed.
The puppies had been advertised for sale, using three different email addresses, for £22,950. One individual was jailed for seven months in June 2022 and banned from keeping dogs under Unfair Trading Regulations. A further Animal Welfare Act matter was scheduled for Aylesbury Magistrates Court for the end of June.
IVC Evidensia is encouraging clients to alert veterinary staff if they feel their pet has come from a puppy farm to allow them to pass on intelligence to the enforcement agencies.
“We need to build a picture of where these puppies are coming from, so we can go after the major players,” said Martin. “Several of our team have been supporting local authorities to help execute search warrants on some of these illegal breeders’ premises and shutting down the kennels.
“As COVID-19 has been fading, there has been increasing enforcement and there really are high profile success stories to highlight.”
Martin continued: “We’re also doing a lot to encourage our pet-owning clients to come forward to veterinary professionals if they have any concerns. Choosing the right breeder is very important and it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between a licensed, legitimate breeder and an illegal puppy trader who’s attempting to trick you.”
IVC Evidensia has launched a guide for pet owners on how to spot a responsible dog breeder.
Martin continued: “Included in this guide are some practical tips for owners. When it comes to buying a puppy, never make any impulsive decisions. Take time to do your research, and to make sure the puppy you choose is healthy and legally bred.
“Don’t let yourself be tricked into buying an illegally bred puppy; you may feel like you’re helping the poor creature (and indeed you would be) but ultimately, you’d be contributing to the illegal puppy trade as a whole.”
The IVC Evidensia guide for pet owners on how to spot a responsible dog breeder can be found online.