Irish gangs dominate deadly puppy smuggling network into Scotland
26th December 2021
A handful of Irish families are believed to be responsible for running a multi-million-pound puppy smuggling operation that has flooded Scotland with sick and dying young dogs.
The Covid pandemic and lockdowns fuelled an explosion in demand for puppies in the UK, leading to sky-rocketing prices, booming unethical black-market breeding and deteriorating animal health.
Illegal dealers from three or four known families in Ireland are suspected of running consignments of poorly bred puppies worth up to £40,000 across the Irish Sea a couple of times a week.
It is estimated that 80pc of these trafficked dogs are ill by the time they are delivered into the hands of the unsuspecting public in Scotland, largely due to being taken from their mothers at a very young age leading to disease and poor socialisation.
The Scotland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has seized 298 dogs originating from Ireland over the last three years, but this is thought to be only a tiny fraction of the grim animal trade between the two countries.
It is hoped new sentencing laws which would carry a five-year jail term will deter the dealers.
An undercover inspector with the Special Investigations Unit of Scotland’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said Irish dealers are behind the bulk of pet trafficking.
“It’s absolutely an Irish problem,” said the inspector. “A few known prolific families are bringing pups into Scotland and selling them online, and around 80pc of these pups are becoming seriously ill, with large numbers of them dying.
“Most of the illegal dealers coming into Scotland come from Ireland.”
The inspector said it is a multi-million-pound industry for the gangs.
“There are huge amounts of money. The average price of a pup is around about £1,800. In the height of lockdown, they were selling from £2,000 to £3,000 a dog.”
On a conservative estimate, the families were making around £40,000 from a single consignment — earnings that could run to millions in a year.
“We know they have been travelling numerous times in a week. They sell different breeds, from black Labradors to French bulldogs to dachshunds.”
It is suspected that the puppies are born in a network of illegal puppy farms.
“I think the likelihood is they’ll be breeding some of their own dogs, and we suspect they are collecting dogs from illegal breeding establishments in the north and the south of Ireland.
“A lot of them are coming up from the south into Northern Ireland and then into Scotland and England.”
The puppy farmers have shown a callous disregard for the welfare of the young pups, which are often taken from their mothers at far too young an age.
Before they are sold they are kept in cramped and unsanitary conditions, where they can catch the potentially lethal canine parvovirus or Campylobacter, a bug that causes intestinal infections and can be passed on to humans.
“The dealers really don’t care about the welfare of these dogs. There are puppy farms where the conditions are horrendous”, said the inspector.
“The puppies are riddled with disease, parasites, fleas — they can have parvovirus. Their welfare has been completely compromised.
“Many of them aren’t vaccinated. They don’t want to take these dogs to the vets, because they don’t want to get them microchipped or registered.
“It’s just a dog for profit — they don’t care if the puppy gets sick or dies. It’s just quick money for the dealers. One of the saddest things I heard was a puppy that died six hours after he was dropped off to a family. The puppy died in front of their little girl. It is very upsetting.”
The inspector said the puppy-dealing families are now transporting smaller consignments of dogs with multiple family members travelling on ferries to evade the authorities.
“We used to see couriers or illegal dealers coming over with 20 pups shoved in the back of their vehicle — now they’re bringing smaller consignments and saying they’re family pets if they are stopped at the port.
“They could have three to five puppies in their vehicles — but there could be eight family members on the ferry at the same time with the same quantity of dogs.
“In recent months we have had a number of successful operations in tackling some very prolific dealers.”
The inspector urged the Irish public to report any information relating to illegal puppy operations.
“Any information on individuals coming into Scotland with pups would be very helpful.
“It’s very difficult, there are so many ferries running each day. Sometimes as soon as you look at the pups you can tell the welfare is compromised but sometimes you will have batches that look all right on the face of it.
“It’s not until a few days later that they actually become ill.”