The UK charity PDSA published in their 2020 report that in the UK there are 10.1m pet dogs in the UK, with 24% of the population owning one. The number of people owning their dog for less than a year pre lockdown was 11%; post lockdown, this has risen to 12% 1. The surge in dog ownership has largely been down to people looking for companionship and to aid with mental health during lockdown. Many prospective dog owners do little or no research on the many factors associated with dog ownership such as the source of the dog or checks with agencies on the legitimacy of the breeder. A survey by the Kennel Club showed that 27% of people have bought dogs without seeing the mother with her litter first and 42% of buyers did not request to see the dog’s breeding environment either virtually or in person. A further 83% of buyers received no evaluation regarding their suitability as a new owner 2.
Crime organisations and gangs in both the UK and Europe have taken advantage of the increase in demand knowing that the sale of the animals can be financially lucrative. Data based on research in November 2020 shows the prices for the five most desirable dog breeds being at a record high. The average price paid for a Dachshund was up 89% compared to March 2020 3. Modelling has shown that a breeder with 20 French bulldog bitches can expect to turn over £120,000 per year.
A scam known as “dogphishing” involves illegally smuggling sought-after breeds into the UK from puppy farms in Eastern Europe, with Romania being the biggest source. The litter is advertised as bred in the UK by a licenced breeder to draw interest from the prospective buyer. The reality is however, that the puppies are abroad, living in filthy, unhygienic conditions and are snatched away from their mothers at a very early age. Many puppy farmers are also willing to arrange for counterfeit health and travel documents for an extra charge. Puppies will then make their way to the UK for sale onto the buyer. These journeys often take up to 33 hours in cramp conditions, often without food or water. Between March 2020 and November 2020, UK charity The Dogs Trust rehomed 43 dogs intercepted at UK borders. The estimated street value of these dogs was £80,000.
The unexpected cost and behavioural issues associated with illegally imported dogs has caused an increase in abandonment, putting extra pressure on charities who are already struggling due to lockdown.