The number of dogs being commercially imported into the UK has risen by more than 50% during lockdown.
According to the RSPCA, imports from Romania have grown by 67% from 19,489 to 32,525 as the demand for puppies soared in the UK.
Annual statistics released by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) showed the number of dogs imported from the EU increased by 52% to 60,190 from 39,562 in 2019.
The charity had previously launched #ForPupsSake campaign which urged the UK government to increase the minimum age that puppies can be brought into the UK from 15 weeks to 24 weeks, as well as introducing better enforcement checks at the borders.
David Bowles, head of public affairs, RSPCA, said: “We’re alarmed but unsurprised by the huge increase. We’ve seen the demand for dogs skyrocket during lockdown and, perhaps unsurprisingly, that’s led to a spike in the number of illicit breeders and dealers exploiting dogs and conning the public in order to cash in.”
He added that the charity’s frontline investigations into “unscrupulous” breeders and sellers have uncovered organised criminal gangs who import puppies from overseas – often from Ireland and Eastern European countries to sell onto unsuspecting buyers here in the UK.
Bowles said: “These latest statistics from Defra just goes to show the scale of this problem, and these figures don’t account for the vast numbers of dogs we suspect are being illegally trafficked into the country in addition to these.”