Under-age puppies are being brought into Britain without proper vaccinations and health treatment because of the demand for fashionable breeds.
A vet in Lithuania was caught on camera offering to sedate a puppy so that it could be smuggled across the Channel without paperwork.
Puppies, some with their umbilical cords still attached, were transported illegally on a 1,000-mile, 30-hour journey across the Continent to feed the black market trade.
Undercover investigators from the Dogs Trust, which is demanding tougher safeguards for pets crossing the border after Brexit, found that puppies travelled in a van from Lithuania without any food for 30 hours. One litter was transported in a basket covered in clingfilm with only a small hole left for air. One of the puppies died.
Border checks were so lax that a toy dog, used in place of a real animal, was smuggled across the Channel by investigators twice.
Britain relaxed its rules on pet travel in 2012 to harmonise with the rest of Europe, allowing animals into the country at 15 weeks old when the previous minimum was 10 months. The reform led to a rise in puppy smuggling.
A vet in Lithuania said that many people were bringing dogs into Britain by hiding them. Another offered investigators a sedative and used a dog model to display how to inject it.
A quarter of vets approached in Lithuania were willing to falsify dates of birth or give the rabies vaccine to investigators so that it could be administered when the puppies reached Britain.
In Poland, Dogs Trust obtained five passports from four vets, each of them with dates of birth changed to make the puppies appear older than they were. Nine-week-old puppies were described as being 16 weeks old.
“Shockingly, in addition to changing the dates on the passports, all the passports contained false information about the rabies vaccination. Dates for these injections were backdated by at least three weeks, meaning if any rabies vaccination was actually administered it would be invalid. There is a legal requirement to wait 21 days after the rabies vaccination has been given before travelling,” the charity said.
An investigator travelled by Postbus from Lithuania to Britain. These vehicles transport parcels, people and pets. Dogs Trust found four puppies but none of their owners.
The journey was “appalling by any standards”, the charity said. “Four puppies [were] confined to pet carriers stacked among other packages in the back of the van with no air conditioning while outside temperatures reached 25C. The puppies were watered just twice,” it said.
Dogs Trust said this should “be a reality check for anyone looking to buy a puppy and a cue to walk away if they suspect that a puppy may be an illegal import”.
Paula Boyden, veterinary director for the trust, added: “These shocking cases show that urgent action is needed to stop the puppy-smuggling scandal.”
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Leaving the EU gives us an opportunity to look at how we can strengthen our controls to crack down on animal traffickers.”
Big profits from designer breeds on the black market
•One of the main reasons for the black market trade is the fashion for French bulldogs, dachshunds, pugs and chow chows and the limited supply from reputable breeders in Britain
•82 per cent of the puppies intercepted at the border belong to “designer breeds” such as these
•Dog owners in Britain pay the second highest prices for designer puppies. Only Swedes pay more
•In Britain a French bulldog puppy costs £1,570, a dachshund £1,000 and a pug £880. Prices in the Czech Republic and Romania are a third or half of that
•Research published yesterday by the RSPCA and Gumtree showed that the most sought-after breeds in online searches were French bulldogs, labradors, Jack Russells and pugs.