Thank you to everyone who has contacted me recently about puppies being smuggled across borders.
I share the concerns that have been raised about this crime and am grateful to the Dogs Trust for highlighting the issue. Responsibility for stopping illegal movement begins in the country where puppies are born, so the Chief Veterinary Officer will be writing to the authorities in highlighted countries to remind them of their duties.
An EU pet travel regulation introduced in 2014 has strengthened enforcement. For example, the new-style passport is harder to forge, new rules apply when more than five animals are moved together, and all EU countries must carry out compliance checks. A 12-week minimum age for rabies vaccination assists compliance checking and restricts the movement of very young animals. As the UK withdraws from the EU, there will be further opportunities to re-evaluate the rules.
There is also a robust checking regime for pets travelling to the UK. Every pet travelling with its owner on an approved route is checked for compliance with the travel regime and the UK Border Force carries out a wide range of checks on vehicles arriving in the UK.
It is important to recognise that we cannot expect the Government to defeat this problem by itself. As individuals, we need to take care not to fuel demand for these animals by providing a market for the unscrupulous people who exploit them. Government advice to prospective owners is very clear: people who buy a pet are responsible for knowing where it comes from and, if it is found to have been imported illegally, they will be held responsible for any necessary quarantine and veterinary fees.
In response to a recent Parliamentary Question, the Minister responsible said:
Illegal puppy smuggling is an abhorrent practice that abuses the Pet Travel Scheme (PTS), and we are determined to put an end to it.
We have increased resourcing at major UK ports. In partnership with Dogs Trust, enforcement bodies and transport carriers, we are identifying non-compliant animals destined for Dover and Folkestone ports. This partnership began in December 2015, and has since then resulted in over 800 puppies being seized and placed into quarantine.
We are also working to develop long term solutions through an intelligence led task force.
Many owners do not know the true origin of their pet. We have published guidance for owners on buying a pet responsibly, which includes advice on what to look out for. A wider public communications campaign is also being planned.
At an international level, we are currently a member of the EU Platform on Animal Welfare, which includes work on illegal dog imports.
We have also introduced new licensing regulations intended to drive up welfare standards for a range of activities involving animals, including dog breeding, which came into effect on 1 October. We have recently consulted on a proposed ban on third party sales of puppies and kittens. This would mean that those looking to buy or adopt a puppy would need to deal directly with the breeder, or with an animal rehoming centre.