Illegal puppy farms capitalise on lockdown demand

By Meg Montague

Illegal puppy breeders are “using Covid as an excuse” to ensure buyers are not following recommended guidelines, warns SSPCA Chief superintendent, Mike Flynn.

“They’re not going to see the pup with its mum, they’re not checking paperwork properly, they’re replying to adverts over the internet, and accepting the pup getting delivered to them,” explains Mike. “That is always a dead give away.”

The SSPCA estimates illegal puppy farming is worth £13m in Scotland. In October, 78 investigations were launched into reports of puppy farms in Scotland, and last week two addresses in East Ayrshire were raided in a joint effort by the SSPCA and Ayrshire police.

The SSPCA and East Ayrshire police seized over 80 animals from suspected puppy farms.

Most illegally bred puppies are sold online through ad sites, such as Gumtree, and it is estimated that 1 in 6 dogs sold online will get sick or die within their first year. Dogs bought from puppy farms are also at a much higher risk of coming with a genetic disease and behavioural issues.

“You’ve had people paying two – two and a half – thousand pounds for a pup, and within a month – or weeks – are raking up veterinary bills of thousands of pounds,” says Mike. “So, you’ve got a huge financial cost but you’ve also got a huge emotional part.”

During lockdown, prices for puppies have surged in line with demand with some breeds, such as French bulldogs and cockapoos, selling for thousands more than they normally would.

Doug McCulloch and his partner bought a puppy during lockdown and while they said they went in with an open mind about prices, they were shocked by how expensive some dogs were being sold for.

“I grew up with dogs, so I know the prices people pay for purebreds,” says Doug. “Admittedly though, there was adverts that we had seen and you’re talking upwards of three grand sometimes.”

“Every second advert you’re looking at it and going ‘that’s just ridiculous’.”

Puppies are being sold at inflated prices on sites like Gumtree.

The SSPCA also worry that dogs might suffer from separation anxiety once their owners return to work.

“You’ll have dogs that are nearly a year old that have never ever known a house without somebody being in it, and that’s when you’re going to start getting behavioural problems, separation anxiety, damage getting done,” Mike explains. “And that does worry us for the future, because a lot of the people who’ve taken pups on have not really thought about the long term future.”

Last week, the pets supply chain, Pets At Home, reported a 5.1% growth in sales due to the surge of new pet ownership during lockdown.

The SSPCA have urged anyone looking to buy a puppy over the next few months to consider the long-term and ensure they aren’t purchasing from an illegal puppy farm.

“We just don’t want people caught out this way. Every time somebody buys a pup from any of these people, you’re just perpetuating it,” Mike says. “The profit that can be made by these people is absolutely obscene, and they’ve got no interest in you or the animal’s welfare.”

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