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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

The puppy smuggling nightmare before Christmas – Dogs Trust Ballymena issues warning & advice

It’s never a good idea to give a puppy as a gift, but Dogs Trust Ballymena is urging potential puppy owners in the region not to buy puppies during the festive season as doing so is helping to fuel the illegal puppy smuggling trade.

Puppy smugglers from Central and Eastern Europe continue to illegally import puppies as they look to cash in on a key period for puppy purchasing. 


More than 2,000 puppies have been seized at the UK border and taken into Dogs Trust’s care as part of its Puppy Pilot scheme since it launched in 2015 – an estimated equivalent market value of over £3m. The scheme provides quarantine and support for puppies seized at ports until they can go to loving new homes. Seizing and rehoming these puppies helps to take money out of the pockets of the illegal importers. 

Dogs Trust has also seen a 60 per cent increase in the number of pregnant dogs seized at UK borders since 2021, many in the late stages of pregnancy and with some giving birth within days of arriving in the country. The dog welfare charity expects numbers to continue to rise if urgent action is not taken. 


Over 130 pregnant dogs have been seized since 2017, bearing around 600 puppies that were intended to be sold on to unsuspecting puppy buyers in the UK. In a six-week period between late September and early November, 27 pregnant dogs were seized entering the UK, their pups intended for the Christmas puppy market. 


The impact on animal welfare is significant, and it’s not only health issues that affect dogs that have been imported illegally. Not only have the pregnant dogs been found in horrendous conditions, they are often very nervous due to the traumatic experiences they have endured as mere money-making machines for the importers. This in turn can affect the development of their puppies and their ability to grow into happy, healthy adult dogs. 


Dogs Trust believes the increase and popularity of shopping online, with people able to search and find a puppy advertised for sale at the click of a button, combined with paltry penalties for those caught illegally importing dogs relative to the huge profits to be made, is creating a ‘perfect storm’ for the puppy smuggling trade. 


Dogs Trust has, for many years, campaigned for more to be done to stop illegal imports of dogs, and is actively calling on the Government to allow the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill to finally pass through the parliamentary process to tackle the trade once and for all. This Bill includes the provision of new powers enabling the Government to introduce measures via secondary legislation to tackle the abuses of the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS). 


Commenting on the issue Conor O’Kane, Rehoming centre manager said: 

“It’s very easy, especially when you’re looking for a puppy, to make decisions with your heart. But this is exactly the trap smugglers want you to fall into. Unknowingly buying a smuggled puppy could have very real consequences for the owner too. The puppy might be too young to have been legally imported or have health issues that you don’t necessarily notice until too late. 


“If we don’t crack down on puppy smuggling soon, our fear is that it will continue causing suffering and misery for so many dogs. We are urging the Government to progress the Kept Animals Bill through Parliament as a priority, to introduce vital protections for pets and bring an end to this barbaric trade.” 


Dogs Trust has issued an open letter to the Minister for Animal Welfare, calling on the Government to tackle the worrying increase in the number of pregnant dogs being illegally imported into the country by bringing the Kept Animals Bill back to Parliament immediately. The letter has been signed by over 60 MPs supporting the charity’s campaign to tackle puppy smuggling. 


For more information on puppy smuggling and how to take action visit:

Welcoming a dog into your family is a 10-15 year commitment.

Whilst Dogs Trust does not advise buying a puppy for Christmas, when you are ready, please follow our do’s and don’ts for buying responsibly:

• Do ask to see mum and pup together

• Do visit your new pup more than once

• Do get all your pup’s paperwork before going home

• Do check that the pup is at a legal age to be separated from their mum

(over eight weeks old)

• Do walk away if you’re at all unsure

• Do report all suspicious sellers or breeders to Trading Standards

• Don’t meet anywhere that isn’t the pup’s home

• Don’t buy a pup from anyone who can supply various breeds on


• Don’t pay anything until you have met the pup in person

• Don’t feel pressure to buy a puppy

Christmas has been a peak period for puppy sales for decades and research has shown this trend continuing. In 2019 the number of tweets mentioning buying puppies jumped by 435% in the lead up to Christmas.

Online retailer Preloved, also reported in the same year that the majority of what it considers to be ‘high volume’ days for pet listings - when sellers post the most adverts for cats, kittens, dogs and puppies - occurred between late November and mid-December.

Dogs Trust has taken 2,209 puppies into care since the Puppy Pilot programme began in 2015. The average value per puppy is £1,500, giving a total market value of £3,000,000.


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