Puppy farm buyers fuelling an illegal trade – Mike Flynn

Mike Flynn is Chief Superintendent at the Scottish SPCA.
Mike Flynn is Chief Superintendent at the Scottish SPCA.
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As a nation of dog lovers, it’s understandable that emotions play a major role when it comes to our four-legged friends. I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds it hard to walk past a dog or pup without stopping and commenting on how cute it is.

However, it’s this love for dogs that illegal puppy breeders prey upon. They know that the excitement of buying a new puppy can cause ­people to ignore warning signs of an illegally bred puppy, or brush off things that seem unusual. It’s this emotional pull that’s playing a major role in fuelling the illegal puppy trade.

By buying or ‘rescuing’ the ­puppy you’re only stimulating demand, which can’t be met by genuine breeders. Puppy farms are supplying organised criminal gangs with pups to make huge hard-to-trace profits – they don’t care about the welfare of animals and the suffering of thousands of puppies across the country continues.

Don’t let your heart rule your head and think you’re rescuing an ill looking puppy – you’re only ­prolonging the agony for others being illegally bred.

That’s why the Scottish SPCA is working closely with the Scottish Government on its Buy a Puppy ­Safely campaign which is urging ­people to look beyond cute and spot the ­warning signs of illegal ­puppy breeding. We truly welcome the campaign and the Minister for Rural Affairs, Mairi Gougeon for driving it forward. Research shows that Scots are increasingly finding puppies online through social media and small ad sites, despite the risk of purchasing from illegal puppy breeders. Almost half (45 per cent) of Scots who bought a puppy in 2019 used an online advert or website compared to a quarter (25 per cent) the year before.

It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement and rush things but I’d urge people to take their time to properly research both the breed they’re interested in as well as the breeder.

More than half (56 per cent) of dog ­owners in Scotland didn’t see their puppy’s mum before buying and nearly a quarter (23 per cent) hadn’t seen where their new puppy had been bred. These stats come despite one in five illegally bred puppies becoming ill or dying in the first year while one in four die before their fifth birthday.

The puppy trade in Scotland is a multi-million pound industry and many of these dogs are bred in large scale puppy farms with little to no regard for their welfare. These ­conditions cause them to develop serious health issues. The Scottish SPCA has already seized more than 160 pups this year and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Illegal dealers are only interested in money. They just want profit and cash.

Operation Delphin, a UK-wide, multi-agency taskforce with the goal of tackling the illegal puppy trade and bringing heartless traders to justice, includes the Scottish SPCA, RSPCA, DSPCA, ISPCA, USPCA, Dumfries & Galloway Council, HMRC, Stenaline and Police Scotland. The group has had success in identifying puppy farms and catching dealers moving pups around the UK.

If you’re looking for a puppy it’s essential you do your three key ‘pup checks’. Firstly, look for the mum as she should be present, healthy and interacting with her puppy. If your seller tries to tell you the mother is unavailable it’s a huge warning sign and likewise be wary of sellers trying to fool you with a replacement mother who will show no interest in the puppy you’re looking to buy.

You should always receive your new puppy’s paperwork for vaccinations, microchipping and anti-worming medication but illegal breeders won’t have these so look out for fake paperwork – check to see if it has a legitimate name and contact details of a real veterinary practice.

It pays to be cautious online. Many illegal dealers are running huge operations and selling multiple litters at the same time, so copy and paste phone numbers from adverts into a search engine and see if other adverts with the same stock images appear. Another tell tale sign is breeders lying about pups being vaccinated before they’re four weeks old. It’s illegal to vaccinate puppies before they’re four weeks old so if an advert claims this, walk away.

Ultimately, even if you’re overcome by a strong emotion to rescue the pup, if something doesn’t feel right, walk away and report your concerns to the Scottish SPCA on 03000 999 999.

You can find more info at www.buyapuppysafely.org/

Mike Flynn is chief superintendent at the Scottish SPCA.