THE RSPCA has launched its #ForPupsSake campaign calling on the UK Government to change the law to stop puppy imports and crackdown on dogs being sold illegally on the black market.

It is urging the UK Government to increase the minimum age that puppies can be brought into the UK from 15 weeks to 24 weeks as well as introducing better enforcement checks at the borders.

RSPCA dog welfare expert Dr Samantha Gaines said: “We have huge concerns about puppy imports and with the reported soaring demand for dogs as people stayed at home through the pandemic, we fear this demand is fuelling this potentially damaging trade. This summer saw legal imports of puppies more than double as the demand for puppies can’t be met domestically.

"New laws introduced in April this year should help crack down on the domestic puppy farms in England and Wales, but dogs are still coming in by their thousands from overseas and we have no independent way of checking the conditions in which these puppies are being kept.

"We fear that legal imports are often a cover for puppy farms which do not put the welfare of the animals first and Brexit provides us with a unique opportunity to finally crackdown on this problem.

“Then there is the problem of illegal puppy smuggling and those who buy a puppy that has been illegally imported from abroad are not only potentially supporting an illicit, underground trade that promotes animal cruelty and neglect in order to make money, but may end up with a puppy who is extremely sick with the potential for severe behaviour problems, or who could even be carrying dangerous zoonotic diseases into the UK.

As reports suggest the demand for puppies has soared in the UK during the pandemic, new figures reveal Trading Standards received nearly 1,000 puppy-related complaints in England alone during lockdown by people concerned about the illegal and unscrupulous selling of dogs.

Almost half saw an increase in the number of complaints during lockdown compared to last year, with some reporting complaints surging by more than 600 per cent. And the RSPCA has received 575 reports relating to the puppy trade during lockdown.

“We know that puppy dealers like to bring in puppies as young as possible so that they are more marketable and desirable to buyers," She added.

"This means that puppies are being taken away from their mothers too young, which can have serious long-term implications for their welfare and wellbeing. We are calling on the Government to change the law to increase the age that puppies can be imported from 15 to 24 weeks. This will not only better protect their welfare, and it reduces the value of the puppy to dealers, making it less lucrative and will also make it easier to spot puppy smugglers if they are attempting to bring in younger dogs illegally.”

This increased demand may be inadvertently fuelling the puppy trade both here and abroad, as shocking new polling revealed that 38 per cent of UK adults considering getting a dog in the next six months would buy one that had been smuggled into the country from abroad.

Sadly, this trade has a tragic toll on young dogs and their mothers and, in recent weeks, the RSPCA has taken in a litter of sick puppies from a puppy farm as well as rescuing a suspected breeding bitch who was dumped dying in freezing conditions as she was no longer useful for producing pups.

The trafficking of puppies is big business in the UK and RSPCA investigations have uncovered gangs of sellers making millions of pounds by breeding their own dogs in poor conditions as well as importing puppies from overseas.

Dr Gaines continued to say: “Puppies who have been smuggled into the country can often have serious health problems and develop long-term behavioural issues. Unfortunately these pups will often have been bred in disgusting conditions on puppy farms overseas before being taken from their mum when they’re just a few weeks old meaning many miss out on important social interactions and lessons from their mum which can cause life-long behavioural problems once they’re rehomed.”

“Dogs will be loaded onto vans and transported for long distances to their final destination. Many puppies from different litters and locations are mixed together on these vans which are the perfect breeding ground for serious infections, viruses and diseases that can be fatal to weak and vulnerable youngsters.

"Most dogs won’t have access to proper veterinary care or appropriate vaccinations prior to travelling and this means that a lot of dogs who are being imported illegally could be bringing extremely dangerous diseases into the UK, such as zoonotic diseases (that can be passed onto humans) or rabies, which is not active here but is present in some countries."