One of the largest animal welfare issues is the one that most people aren't aware of: puppy trafficking. As the popularity of pets, dogs in particular, continues to rise, the illegal business of dog smuggling has seen immense growth all across the world, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Thailand, Singapore and more.
Animal smuggling is on the rise, and wannabe pet owners, looking for “designer” dogs and young pups of specific breeds, buying dogs from illegal breeders or other unidentified sources, are the reason why this problem has gotten completely out of hand.
Smuggling is the act of either sneaking in goods and merchandise (including animals) from one country into another or falsifying documentation in order to do so. The main motivation for this illegal task is profit. There are often three reasons smuggled goods make money:
- 1) goods at a lower tax rate are available outside of one’s country
- 2) the demand for the goods can’t be met within one’s country and so another resource is taken advantage of,
- 3) the goods are found in another country at a lower cost and then purchased within one’s country by an unwitting consumer.
In order to understand how the business of dog smuggling (or puppy trafficking) works, it’s important to look at determining factors, such as economic structures of border countries and states as well as the policies that make smuggling more or less difficult.
Economics, Politics, and Supply-and-Demand
We continue to be astounded at the lengths these deceptive breeders and dealers will go to in order to illegally import puppies to make huge profits.
Smuggling occurs as a way to get around unsavory legislation (often imposing tariffs or border regulation) while further legislation is created to put a stop to smuggling.
It’s difficult to stop a system that works so well, however. When an item is in demand, two parties play key roles and both benefit: the Buyer gets what they want (a coveted item) and the Seller gets what they want (money). And while many associate smuggling with firearms and drugs, there’s another item on the rise: puppies.
Currently, the pet care industry is one of the largest and fastest growing in the world. Americans spend an estimated $1,200 on their pet each year (not including routine veterinary care). The American Pet Products Association estimated that the U.S. spent over 72 billion dollars on pet care products in 2018; that’s a jump from the amount spent during 2017: 69.51 billion. While the desire for having dogs as pets in America is apparent, smuggling of these common household pets is made easier by the economic differences between the United States and its neighbor, Mexico.
The U.S. and Mexico border illustrates a mutually-beneficial, albeit illegal, operation of puppy and dog smuggling. Dogs purchased in Mexico for as little as $50 are transported to the United States where Americans are not only willing but able to pay as much as $1,000 for their new pet. Small dog breeds such as Chihuahuas, Poodles, and French Bulldogs are some of the most sought-after and can fetch a pretty penny.
Sadly, many of these animals come from inhumane conditions and carry life-threatening diseases, such as distemper and parvovirus. These diseases are not only brought into their new country, but typically lead to an early death, causing both heartbreak and costly veterinarian bills for the owner.
This pattern is also seen in the economically successful city-state of Singapore, where animal smugglers risk jail time and penalties in order to illegally export puppies from surrounding, more impoverished communities to find a wealthier market. Many other countries, including Thailand, China and Vietnam, are also dealing with this problem, albeit less successfully than the U.S. In Thailand, in one month alone, it's not unusual for a single patrol to rescue approx. 800 dogs inhumanely stuffed into wire cages.
As dog smuggling business continues to experience growth due to popularity of pets, the West isn't unaffected either. Many European countries are aware of this problem but little is done to deal with it effectively or discourage animal smuggles further. The United Kingdom has also seen a steady rise of profitability when it comes to pet accessories, foods, and toys, with the most current statistics showing over 5 billion euros annually. The country has become a telling example for how policy can affect the global rise of dog smuggling.
The U.K. has seen dog smuggling escalate rapidly within the past five years, with a spike occurring during the holiday season of 2017. Puppies as young as four weeks old are illegally trafficked into the country on a regular basis. The date the problem became worse isn’t a direct correlation to the Brexit vote results during the summer of 2016 as much as it is an issue of supply-and-demand and the introduction of The Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) in 2012. Due to this and other related legal loopholes, dog smuggles are now motivated to commit to 30-hour trips from Europe to the U.K. in order to traffic as many young pups into the country as they can.
PETS allows dogs of only 15 weeks of age to travel into Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and it also commits to a more lax stance on vaccinations. And although the decision to leave the European Union isn’t set to greatly affect the United Kingdom until well into 2019, some politicians and citizens alike anticipate complications with both trade policies and border control (especially the 300 mile stretch between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which has remained peacefully unprotected for the past 40 years). However, many animal welfare organizations in the U.K. are calling the Brexit referendum an opportunity to reverse PETS. Whether this opportunity will be acknowledged and properly applied is yet to be seen.
However, change to or further regulation is not guaranteed to end illegal puppy transporting. In truth, so long as demand for “designer” breeds exists, illegal activity will find a way to operate and supply this demand. Dog smuggling acts much like any other legal business would: there’s a hierarchy of “employees” who all play specific roles in order to dodge legislation and at the end of a successful work day, there’s a paycheck. And the bill is fitted by ill-educated buyers.
Moreover, the legal system and authorities still do not take puppy trafficking (or animal cruelty) as serious as they should, and the laws in many countries – including the U.K. – are often too lax. Punishment is mild enough for dog smuggles not to be discouraged to profit from this illegal activity. For example, a 54-year old man from Killearn Crescent, Plains was only given a “ban” and a $3,300 fine for mistreatment and trading of many dogs, even though it's been known to investigators that the man has a long history of animal cruelty.
The Buyers of Smuggled Dogs
A large part as to why dog smuggling works is due to those purchasing a pet that was illegally and often inhumanely transported. Many animal welfare organizations across the globe attempt to educate the community about the importance of knowing their puppy’s seller, but informative pamphlets and blog posts often fall by the way-side as soon as a future-owner sees floppy ears and cute puppy-dog eyes.
As we’ve seen through examples around the world, animal smuggling businesses are apt to commit fraud, creating fake vaccination papers and passports. And it’s because of this that many future pet owners are unaware of their dog’s early life and this is often because they are lied to by dog smugglers.
The internet plays a large part in the dog smuggling business’ success. This platform that’s available 24/7 around the world allows buyers to search through hundreds of photographs of puppies for sale, read short profiles about the canines (which, typically, are also not based on truth) and contact the seller directly to set up a time to meet/buy the dog.
The Sellers That Smuggle Dogs
Sellers may pose themselves as an animal sanctuary or revered breeder and the unsuspecting buyer buys not only the puppy but the charade. Others may choose to sell their smuggled animals to local pet shops, who are either unwitting or don’t care about the seller’s source.
The dog smuggling business relies on the falsification of documents which calls for otherwise trusted individuals to do. Following the example of puppy smuggling issues in the United Kingdom, investigations found that veterinarians in certain countries were willing to alter information concerning the birth and/or vaccination dates if paid to do so.
Once the puppy is considered old enough to travel – usually below the age many would recommend or what is federal law in the U.S. or other countries – and the appropriate documents (although typically falsified) are gathered, the smuggler plans their travel.
Driving is preferred over air travel as security is anything but lax in most international airports. While border check points still exist when driving hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles with dogs by your side, searches of the vehicle are often random enough to be avoided, especially if the driver doesn’t cause suspicion or can pose as a commuter. Many animal smugglers prepare for a vehicle search, however, often placing the puppies in hidden small, hidden compartments that are hollowed out or designed by the smugglers themselves.
However, in order to do all of this, sellers need a source from which they gain their puppies. And while it’s true that some dog smugglers consider themselves a Renaissance man of sorts – breeding, smuggling, and selling the puppy all by themselves – it’s more often that an additional resource is available to help, making their operation easier and them less liable.
The Main Source in Dog Smuggling
Utilizing a middle man, or “source”, protects the identity of the smuggler as well as keeps their tasks simple: the less time they must spend homing their snuck-in product, the more time they can spend traveling back and forth, keeping the money and operation constantly flowing.
Often, these sources are puppy breeding farms, or puppy mills, which routinely impregnate their female dogs so that their “product” (puppies) can continuously be available.
Sometimes these operations are able to work because they may exist in a country with lesser or no animal welfare regulations. Meaning, inhumane puppy breeding can occur with almost no interruption. These often unhealthy puppies are then picked up by the smuggler who may pose as an adopter and pay for the animals, or may even be in on the operation, splitting their profits with the illegal breeders.
Why Dog Smuggling Is an Animal Welfare Issue
Puppies in particular are in danger of being smuggled, as their size allow for easier hiding. Investigations carried out by organizations like PETA, ASPCA, and DogsTrust (a British organization) have founded that smuggled pups are often inhumanely treated. Just this last September, a San Antonio man tried to smuggle 25 puppies and was caught at a checkpoint in Laredo, Texas. Trafficked puppies were clearly inhumanely treated, all covered in their own feces and urine, and stuffed inside duffel bags like old clothes.
There are many more cases like this.
One investigation found a container of puppies that was plastic wrapped with only a small hole allowing them to breathe while another found severe cases of skin infections imparted by inhumane conditions during transportation. It’s also common for these puppies to be restrained, immobile, and muzzled for as long as the journey between borders takes.
Sadly, the pet industry is not exclusive to canines and it’s a worldwide issue. Often, these animals, reptiles and birds are heavily drugged, uncomfortably contained, denied food, water, or a humane place to waste for hours, sometimes days. It’s not uncommon for smuggled animals to die during the journey.
How You Can Help
Buyers (or future pet adopters) can help break this illegal and harmful system by investigating the source they wish to buy a puppy from. You can ask to meet the puppy’s parents, ask to visit the seller’s home to see the conditions the puppy comes from. Any denial to these simple requests should raise red flags and you may or may not choose to report their information to a local animal rights organization for further investigation.
While policies often do little to stop dog smuggling, one thing that could damper it is a shrunken market. If everyone refused to purchase smuggled animals, and in general do better research into where the puppies are coming from to avoid illegal breeders and puppy mills, animal smugglers would see their business slowly diminish.
To-do list on how to avoid fostering puppy trafficking when getting a dog:
- Always ask to see the puppy's parents together with the pup
- Never meet the seller anywhere else other than where the puppy lives
- Do not purchase a dog from a place that sells more than one breed
- Come to see the pet you want to adopt more than once
- Don't buy pups that look unhealthy, underweight or too young (do report them)
- Ensure there's paperwork for the dog, take it and bring it with you
- If there are any red flags, walk away and report the place to local authorities
- Bring your new puppy to a veterinarian for a check-up right away
- Do not allow to be pressured into purchasing an animal
It's better to adopt, not shop for a puppy. But if you do prefer to buy a dog of specific breed, make sure to get one only from a reputable breeder that operates legally.
READ NEXT: How to Find and Identify a Reputable Breeder