Smuggling puppies out of Ireland is big business
Edward is an adorable puppy: he's five months old, at that gawky stage of having a puppy's playful mind in the body of a young adult dog. Edward accompanied me last week on Irish breakfast television to highlight an important issue: puppy smuggling.
Edward is now blessed with a lovely home, living with a family who dote on him. But his life didn't start out that way. He was bred by somebody who planned to use him to make a significant amount of cash. He was one of a group of twenty young puppies who were found crammed into the boot of a car in Cairnryan ferry port in Scotland in July. The puppies were all too young to travel, were not accompanied by pet passports and, although microchipped, they had not been registered. The puppies were seized by the Scottish SPCA and returned to Ireland. The rescued puppies, aged from 4 - 8 weeks old, including Shih Tzu's, Bichon Frise, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Pugs and Cocker Spaniels, all classic "on trend" breeds of dog that are much in demand. They were transported to the ISPCA's National Animal Centre in Longford, where they were given all of the treatment they needed to ensure that they had a good start in life. They were then succesfully rehomed.
Edward's story has a happy ending, but it rarely works out like this for smuggled puppies. Some of them die in transit, and the rest are sold for cash. They are treated as money-making commodities rather than sentient, living creatures. The people who buy them don't realise their origins, and after the stress they've been through, the pups are far more likely to fall ill, to develop behavioural problems and to have a range of long term issues.
Every year, tens of thousands of under-age, unvaccinated, undocumented puppies are smuggled out of Ireland. It's a tax-avoiding, heartless trade, but it's now on the radar of the officials charged with controlling cross-border transfer of dogs. There are now serious EU-imposed controls on the export of dogs to the UK, with rules affecting pet dogs, and different rules for puppies destined for selling to new homes. Puppy smugglers try to dodge these rules, but the regulatory bodies are now on to their case, and there have been a high number of seizures of puppies at ports in recent months. It's now getting so difficult to smuggle dogs that hopefully people will be deterred from trying, so that the problem will ease.
What are the rules for pets and for dogs that are planned to be sold in the UK?
It's simpler for pet owners. All pet dogs must be microchipped, they need to have a pet passport (obtained from their local vet), and they must be given a rabies vaccination three weeks before travelling to the UK. The rabies vaccine lasts for three years, so for regular travellers, this is not an onerous demand.
The rules are stricter for dogs and puppies that are destined to be passed on to new homes in the UK
There is a specific European Directive - known as the Balai Directive - that governs the cross border transport of all dogs other than personal pets. Any dogs being exported for commercial purposes (e.g. any puppy to be sold or rehomed) must comply with Balai Directive, which has been in place for two years. This applies as much as dogs travelling from France to Germany, or the Netherlands to Belgium, as much as it does between Ireland and the UK. It's been introduced as a way of regulating trade in living animals. Other animals - such as farm animals - are equally tightly controlled for cross-border trade.
The Balai Directive lays down strict rules for puppies and dogs that are crossing borders. They need to be microchipped, registered and vaccinated against rabies three weeks before travel. Critically, they have to be at least twelve weeks old on the date of travel (In fact, since the rabies vaccine cannot be given earlier than twelve weeks of age, no puppy is allowed to travel before it's 15 weeks old ). Additionally, all pups and dogs have to be health checked by a vet within two days of the date of transport, and they must have a certificate stating this. The premises where the dogs begin their journey must be registered and approved by the authorities in the exporting country as "Balai compliant premises", and they can only be transported in a "Type Two Transporter": this is a vehicle that has been formally registered for transporting dogs
These rules involves a significant financial cost, and that's why so many people try to smuggle puppies out, in car boots and vans. Authorities in both the UK and Ireland have begun to crack down on the ferry port routes - often from the Republic via Northern Ireland and on to Scotland - used to transport pups. International, multi-agency action is clamping down on puppy smugglers.
"Operation Delphin" is a joint operation by animal protection officers in Scotland and Ireland (SSPCA, RSPCA, ISPCA, DSPCA) as well as customs, Revenue Commissioners, ferry operators and other UK and Irish authorities. They have been using intelligence gained from observing people selling puppies in the UK to target vehicles and individuals at ports.
So here's the good news: at last, the puppy smugglers are losing the battle.