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Dogs Trust exposes puppy smuggling scandal and flaws in the Pet Passport scheme
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Dogs Trust exposes puppy smuggling scandal and flaws in the Pet Passport scheme

Dogs
Health & Safety

The Dogs Trust, the UK’s largest charity dedicated to the welfare and rehoming of the country’s dogs, carried out an investigation into the pet passport scheme in 2014, and made some startling discoveries regarding flaws that mean that a significant number of dogs have been brought into the UK in recent years with falsified documents.

Revisiting their research, which was presented to the government for auctioning in 2014, the Dogs Trust have again definitively proven that smuggling a dog or puppy into the UK using false documentation is frighteningly easy, and places both the people and the dogs of the UK at risk.

In this article, we will examine the Dogs Trust’s 2014 findings, events since then, and the implications of all of this for the UK’s dog owners. Read on to learn more.

Bringing a dog into the UK legally

In order to transport a dog into the UK legally, whether that be a dog from abroad or a British dog that has gone on holiday with their owners, all dogs must hold their own specially issued pet passport, and getting a pet passport involves a significant amount of time and money. In order to get a pet passport for your dog, they will need to go through a series of rabies vaccinations and antibody tests, be microchipped, wormed and treated for fleas within a set amount of time prior to coming into the UK, and vitally, have a Pet Passport issued with a serial number corresponding to the dog’s microchip number.

A full run-down of what is involved in the pet passport scheme is covered in this article.

The problem

The Dogs Trust has found that unscrupulous vets and clinics in certain European countries including Lithuania and Hungary are prepared to falsify the details required for a Pet Passport, issuing and signing off on passports that are essentially fraudulent, and bypass all of the necessary restrictions for the passports, such as rabies vaccination and flea and worming treatment.

Mainland Europe, unlike Britain, has not successfully eradicated rabies, and so bypassing the vaccination process in order to issue a Pet Passport introduces the very real risk of causing rabies to be reintroduced into the UK.

How did the problem develop?

While the problem itself and the number of vets abroad that are prepared to falsify documents in order to issue pet passports helps to permit private dog owners to bring their dogs into the UK without spending the necessary time and money to attain proper documentation, the wider implications of the problem are much more serious.

Puppy farms and puppy mills in countries such as Lithuania and Hungary have sprung up around the UK’s demand for pedigree dogs at an affordable price, and so in many cases, illegally imported dogs are puppies that have been mass-produced in breeding farms abroad, imported into the UK as cheaply as possible for sale to the UK market.

This means that not only is the illegal importation of dogs under fake passports likely to pose a health risk to other dogs and people within the UK, but also that the UK’s demand for low priced, pedigree puppies is directly contributing to puppy farming and undesirable breeding practices abroad.

How come the pet passport scheme is so easy to fool?

The scandal of bringing unvaccinated dogs and those without proper documentation into the UK has been successful due to a combination of immoral veterinary practices in certain countries, compounded with checks at the UK borders that have proven to be unfit for purpose when it comes to identifying dogs with false or incorrect paperwork.

At the borders, the only checks that are made as standard include matching the microchip code of the dog being imported to the serial number on the pet passport, and in many cases, this means that no officials will actually see the dog that they are approving at all, if they are contained within a carrier or otherwise out of sight.

This became abundantly clear recently when the Dogs Trust managed to successfully pass border checks on three separate occasions using fabricated documents and a toy dog in a cage, not a live animal at all! On all three occasions, the dog was not checked, and the paperwork was approved without incident.

What are the risks?

First and foremost, there is a very real risk that the unpoliced transit of dogs from countries where rabies still occurs into the UK, which is currently free of rabies, will serve to reintroduce rabies into the UK almost a century after its successful eradication.

Secondly, the certifications given with the dogs, being false, also mean that it is possible that the dogs have not received any other vaccinations, nor the appropriate worming and flea treatments to prevent them from bringing foreign parasites into the UK as well.

Thirdly, the ease of illegal importation directly fuels the work of unscrupulous puppy mills abroad that cater to the UK market, placing the health and wellness of the breeding dogs and their offspring at risk as well.

What is being done about it?

As a result of the Dogs Trust’s 2014 report, changes were made to the pet passport scheme in December 2014, with the intention of tightening up the loopholes that have allowed the problem to occur. These changes included requiring the name and address of the dog’s owner to be included on the pet passport, and that pet passports should be laminated in order to prevent later fraudulent changes.

However, the Dogs Trust has proved by means of their second investigation in 2015 that these measures are not wide reaching enough, nor well enough policed to have had any significant impact on the issue.

The Dogs Trust has now made recommendations including banning the import of dogs under six months of age, increasing the wait after rabies vaccination before travel is permitted to twelve weeks, and tightening standards and regulation on puppy breeding in certain European hotspots.

The Dogs Trust also recommends that the policing of the pet passport scheme and compliance at the borders be managed by a government agency rather than the ferry and Eurotunnel operators that are currently responsible for it.

A full copy of the Dogs Trust 2014 report can be viewed here, while details on their most recent investigation is covered here.

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