The RSPCA has welcomed the European Parliament’s adoption of a resolution formally calling for action to tackle the growing illegal trade in pets.

The Parliament (EP) is calling on the European Commission to take action to try to stop the illegal trafficking of dogs and cats.

The issue has become a major concern for the RSPCA, and other animal welfare organisations, since the Pet Travel Scheme was introduced in 2003.

This system, which was designed to allow people to travel with their pets for holidays and for shows, is now all too often exploited by animal traffickers for commercial purposes. In 2015 alone, 93,424 dogs were imported into the UK for commercial and noncommercial reasons and 85,730 of those came from within the EU.

The RSPCA is particularly concerned about the number of puppies being imported, under this scheme, from European countries where large-scale puppy farms are known to operate.

The charity’s puppy report – ‘Sold a pup? Exposing the breeding, trade and sale of puppies’ – published last week, lifts the lid on the scale of the puppy trade and market in England, and also revealed what countries appear to be fuelling the problem (see graphic above), as well as the trade routes likely used to illegally import these pups.

The EP Resolution, coordinated by Renate Sommer MEP, was underpinned by Eurogroup for Animals’ Protect Our Pets campaign.

The RSPCA estimates, in its recent report, that more than 70,000 puppies were imported into the UK – 30,000 from illegal farms in Romania, Hungary, Poland and Lithuania; and 40,000 from Ireland – over the last 12 months.

David Bowles, assistant director of external affairs at the RSPCA, said: “There is a huge demand for particular breeds and designer crossbreeds in the UK and responsible, regulated breeders cannot produce enough puppies. This means that unscrupulous and unregulated breeders and dealers are filling the gap with puppies, many of which are illegally trafficked into the country.

“A lot of these puppies are bred in horrendous conditions by large-scale breeders with little or no consideration for the welfare of the animals themselves. They may be taken from their mothers when they are too young and transported across the EU without vaccinations or legitimate paperwork.

“Many of these puppies contract life-threatening diseases and are at risk of developing behavioural issues in later life.

“That’s why we’ve launched the Scrap the Puppy Trade campaign, to tackle this issue head-on. We want the Government in England to introduce legislation which would help bring this illegal – but profitable – trade to an end.

“Just two of the recommendations we’re making to Westminster is to increase risk-based spot checks at Dover to enforce the rules on non-commercial trade in dogs and puppies; and to transfer the responsibility for implementing and enforcing the PETS system from the ferry companies to the statutory border control agency.”

According to Eurogroup for Animals, the trafficking of pets is estimated to be the third most profitable illegal trade after weapons and drugs within the EU. And a recent study found that the trade in cats and dogs in the EU was worth €1.3 billion annually.

A Eurogroup for Animals spokesperson said: "This Resolution sends a clear signal to the European Commission that it is time to act to stop this horrific, illegal trade. They have the powers in place, they have the evidence from their own study, and now they have the clear political will from the elected representatives of the Union too. My sincere thanks to Renate Sommer and to all those who voted for the motion."

Renate Sommer MEP, the instigator of the Parliament’s Resolution, added: "This Resolution seeks to mitigate the most opaque elements of the Pet Travel Scheme, namely by harmonising the national identification and registration systems and requirements for pets across the EU. Such a harmonisation would provide greater certainties over the age of any given animal, its vaccination status, and would allow for proper cross-border traceability.

"Many Member States already have systems for the identification and registration of pets. We are not seeking to reinvent the wheel here – we do not see the need for some sort of single EU level database. All we need is to have the same requirements, with compatible systems in each Member State. This should neither be beyond the wit of EU Governments, nor should it cause any concerns with the Commission over the issue of subsidiarity.

"The evidence is clear, as is the solution. As well as being our companions, pets do pose serious transmissible disease threats to animals and humans alike. I now hope that the Commission will have the courage to take the necessary political decision, based on our Resolution, so that we can end this cruel inhumane trade, and so that Europe’s pets, animals and owners alike are better protected in the future."

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