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Securing the full traceability of pets across Europe

Joana Fernandes, FOUR PAWS UK Investigations Consultant, writes about new proposals to exclude illegal puppy dealers from the UK market.

July 2021

The online puppy trade in Europe is estimated to worth almost 1.5 billion pounds per year. The facility offered by classified ad sites, along with cute puppy photos, makes this market even more attractive for people looking for a new furry companion.

The UK is highly impacted by the illegal puppy trade. The national demand for puppies is higher than the breeding capacity of responsible breeders, and therefore unscrupulous breeders have stepped in to meet this demand.
FOUR PAWS is aware of illegal puppy breeders who keep thousands of puppies and their mothers in appalling conditions, who are then smuggled long distances across Europe and sold on classified ad sites for huge prices in the UK.

Most of the puppies coming from Eastern European countries are offered on sites like Gumtree, Facebook and Pets4Homes, with fake information that hides the depressing reality behind this trade. When transported to the UK, they usually are accompanied by fake documents with false birth dates and vaccination stickers.

With no requirement to verify their authenticity, these sites offer rogue breeders complete anonymity to advertise illegally imported puppies. Puppy dealers can simply disappear once a sale has been made, leaving the new owners to deal with sick animals and high veterinary fees.

Traceability is the key to clamp down illegal puppy dealers. With this in mind, FOUR PAWS has developed a Model Solution which helps to verify seller’s identities.

The Model Solution seeks the implementation of national digital Identification & Registration (I&R) databases which provide full traceability and identification of stakeholders throughout a dog’s lifecycle: breeder, seller, transporter, the microchipping vet, the registering qualified professional, as well as all consecutive owners.

There is recent legislation such as Lucy’s Law in England, which bans the third-party sales of puppies and kittens, however, this law fails to tackle the traceability issue and unlicensed breeders are still able to operate freely.

To really stamp out illegal practices we need full traceability, not just for the breeders and sellers, but for every individual dog, for their entire lifespan.

How could we achieve this?

There must be a legal requirement for mandatory microchipping of every pet, and legal obligations for I&R databases to collect data covering all stakeholders involved in the dog’s life. These I&R databases, which are already in use across Europe, would then need to be linked up to allow cross border investigations. This process would make it easier to see which animals are from which breeding/seller establishment and full pet and seller traceability can be achieved.

In addition to this, FOUR PAWS is recommending that classified ad sites use an automated checking system which links to the I&R databases, to ensure only microchipped and registered dogs can be advertised on their sites.

With the Model Solution implemented, Europe-wide full traceability of pets could finally be achieved. To exclude illegal puppy dealers effectively from the UK online market, the introduction of the FOUR PAWS Model Solution is essential, even as a non-EU member country. This would be a critical process for disease prevention, public safety and for improving the welfare of millions of companion animals.

Please read our report and find what gaps need to be filled and issues that need to be addressed in order to achieve full traceability of dogs in the UK.

Joana Fernandes, Investigations Consultant for FOUR PAWS UK

Follow @FourPawsUK

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.