Lizzie RobertsFri, 12 February 2021, 5:09 pm
Puppy imports from Romania increased by almost 70 per cent due to the pandemic, new figures show, as the RSPCA warned “criminal gangs” are behind the problem.
The number of dogs imported from the EU increased by 52 per cent from 39,562 in 2019 to 60,190 in 2020, according to figures from the Animal and Plant Health Agency.
While the number of imports from Romania went up by 67 per cent from 19,489 to 32,525, and now represent more than half (54 per cent) of all EU imports.
The RSPCA said they were “alarmed but not surprised” by the surge in imported dogs as they saw demand “skyrocket” during lockdown.
David Bowles, head of public affairs at the RSPCA, said: “Perhaps unsurprisingly, that’s led to a spike in the number of illicit breeders and dealers exploiting dogs and conning the public in order to cash in.”
He added that RSPC investigations into “unscrupulous breeders and sellers” have uncovered “organised criminal gangs who import puppies from overseas – often from Ireland and Eastern European countries such as Romania – to sell on to unsuspecting buyers here in the UK”.
The latest figures show the “scale of the problem”, Mr Bowles added, but “don’t account for the vast numbers of dogs we suspect are being illegally trafficked into the country in addition to these”.
Two types of dogs are being imported from Romania, Mr Bowles told The Telegraph, puppies and street dogs – the first being cute, young puppies of specific breeds, and the latter are adults marketed at people wanting to “save” a dog.
“It is certainly true that street dog traders can set up fake companies or work with “rescue” organisations in the UK who may not be legitimate but set themselves up to make money on the back of street dogs,” Mr Bowles said, but added there are also genuine rescues coming in from the country.
The Romanian puppy market however marks up dogs worth £50 in the country to “ten times that in the UK,” he added.
Criminal gangs use tricks such as bringing in a “stooge mum” dog, as well as setting up “fake homes in an empty house” to make it look like the puppies were bred in the UK, Mr Bowles said.