Nearly 100 Puppies Rescued from Traffickers in Wales

Investigators strike at the UK's lucrative illegal puppy trade.


Nearly 100 puppies have been rescued after being illegally smuggled into the Welsh port of Holyhead, in the latest strike at the lucrative puppy trade in the United Kingdom.

Welsh border officials intercepted two shipments of puppies that arrived in Holyhead on ferries from Dublin. The puppies – 6 to 7 weeks old, from a range of breeds including basset hounds, beagles and labradoodles – were carefully hidden inside trucks on each ferry.

The multi-agency rescue operation was spearheaded by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), whose investigators found the animals in cramped, poorly ventilated cages that held no food or water. While two puppies needed veterinary care, the rest were examined and diagnosed as healthy enough to be sent back to the Ireland, where they will soon be available for placement in new homes.

The puppies were found in crowded cages without food or water. Credit: RSPCA

"These poor puppies were being carted into Wales in deeply inappropriate conditions in the early hours of the morning," said Ian Briggs, from the RSPCA's special operations unit, in a statement. "Sadly, to unscrupulous dealers, these young pups are nothing more than a cash bonanza, and dealers would have been targeting tens of thousands of pounds from these shipments."

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According to the RSPCA, demand for puppies in the UK far outstrips the supply that can be created by licensed breeders, leaving a lucrative market for unlicensed and unscrupulous puppy traffickers. The puppies raised by such breeders are reared in poor conditions on puppy farms throughout Europe and snatched from their "breeding machine" mothers prematurely. Consumers can be fooled about the nature of the dealer with whom they're working. Meanwhile, the pups they've just purchased could be in very poor health thanks to their rearing conditions and to the harsh journey they've likely endured to reach the illegal market.

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In a 2015 BBC News report documenting the UK puppy trade – worth hundreds of millions of pounds – an undercover investigator in Scotland told journalist Sam Poling just how lucrative the business could be for an unlicensed trader:

"Pups are sold wholesale for somewhere in the region of £150," he tells me. "The more dogs you buy, the cheaper you get them. You bring them across to Scotland and you sell excess from £300-£750 depending on the breed you want. If you go for the more specialist breeds, for instance French bulldogs, it can be £1,500. It is all cash. People buy in cash. No one buys a pup other than cash."

Yesterday's puppy rescue was just the latest in the battle to rein in the trade in Europe. The RSPCA has launched a "Scrap the Puppy Trade" campaign, aimed at convincing the UK government to make licensing mandatory for anyone selling dogs in England, with stiff penalties for violators. They also suggest a national puppy seller database and a requirement that all online ads for puppies carry a verifiable dealer's license number.

"There is concern from many police forces about how criminals are seeking to make money from illegal and inappropriate puppy importation," said Gareth Pritchard, North Wales deputy chief constable, whose team participated in the Holyhead operation. "These activities can cause severe animal welfare problems and provide revenue for criminals."

Top Photo: Veterinarians check up on one of the rescued puppies. Credit: RSPCA