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Tonight: The Truth Behind the Bargain Dog Trade

Puppy business is big business. And with the pet dog population rising by half a million a year, not all come from a responsible source. Large-scale puppy breeding is a multi-million pound industry – but are the rules enforced tightly enough?

"The actual legislation is very old and quite vague. Local authorities are being cut back more and more and therefore the resources to inspect are perhaps limited.”

– Paula Boyden, chief vet at the Dogs Trust

An estimated one in six puppies are born in a puppy farm. Although most breeders look after their dogs, there are some unscrupulous people out there looking to make easy money at the expense of the well being of the dogs they breed litter after litter from.

The Puppy Love Campaign provided the Tonight programme exclusive footage of one such puppy farm in West Wales. Puppies are seen separated from their mother and kept in a metal box. One dog is seen bouncing from side to side in a pen, in what appears a typical sign of distressed behaviour.

"We saw dogs, about 30 dogs, in filthy pens. The smell and the taste of the ammonia was terrible."

– Puppy Love Campaign spokesperson

Not all the pet dogs we love were bred in the UK. Since 2012, the rules on travelling with your pets around the EU have relaxed. As a result, the number of dogs coming into the UK from Eastern Europe have risen by 433% and even the Government admits that whilst the scheme is only meant for pets, its being exploited.

Dog breeders in Eastern Europe have caught onto this loophole and found a new method of making money.

Puppies for sale in Poland Credit: ITV / Tonight

“For every cute puppy that is brought over from Eastern Europe and advertised on the Internet has a whole story of suffering behind it. It’s not only the puppies that are suffering but also the breeding dogs – their parents. The profit margins are high and the risks are very low.”

– Julie Sanders, Four Paws UK

The Tonight team visited Poland and armed with undercover cameras, struck up a conversation with a breeder who gave tips on getting puppies into the UK before they were old enough to travel. She suggested we find our own vet in Britain to pre-stamp vaccination cards and Pet Passports. That way the future owners would never know they came from Poland.

A Polish breeder told the Tonight team how to falsify paperwork Credit: ITV / Tonight

Questions are raised over the validity of vaccinations given to puppies bred in these countries and there are concerns over the risk of rabies entering the UK.

And it doesn’t matter whether a farmed puppy was home grown or smuggled from abroad; vets say that start in life can have a negative impact on the dog’s health. One in six puppies bought from online adverts died within six months. When people bought directly from a responsible breeder, less than 1% died.

Donna Aves Credit: ITV / Tonight

Donna Aves bought a Labrador puppy from a dealer in Norfolk. Within a week the puppy died of the highly contagious Parvovirus. The woman who sold the dog, Lisa Walsh, has been under investigation by Trading Standards for Fraud. She plead guilty and is awaiting sentencing. It was later revealed that Walsh was claiming her puppies were vaccinated against deadly diseases when they had not.

The Labrador sold to Donna by Lisa Walsh Credit: Donna Aves

“I hope she gets a permanent ban on breeding dogs. Why should she be allowed to own an animal again? She doesn’t care for animals.”

– Donna Aves

Things to look out for when buying a puppy:

  • All animal organisations warn against meeting a breeder anywhere other than their home, and be vigilant when you’re there.
  • See the puppies a few weeks before collecting. A puppy should not be separated from its mother until after 8 weeks old.
  • Make sure you see the puppy interacting with its mother.
  • Check the paperwork with the breeder. If the vaccination card shows a vets far away then the chances are that’s where the puppy comes from.
  • Check there is no discharge from the puppy’s eyes or nose and there are no sores on its body.
  • If you feel bad for the puppy because of the condition the seller is keeping it in, don’t buy it. This will only add to the problem.

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