RSPCA and Gumtree uncover true shocking scale of illegal puppy trade in England
The RSPCA saw its busiest year tackling the underground puppy trade in 2016, receiving more calls than ever before from people reporting questionable breeders and dealers.
The UK’s largest and oldest animal welfare charity is seeing a steady rise in the number of complaints* coming in about the underground puppy trade. In 2016, the RSPCA dealt with 6% more calls than the previous year, and 132% more than five years before - 87% of those calls came from people who purchased the puppy online.
“We urge anyone thinking of buying a puppy to be extremely careful when they’re choosing what type of dog to buy, where to buy from and who to buy from,” RSPCA dog welfare expert Lisa Richards explained.
“It’s so important to do lots of research not only into the type of dog you want and the kind of care he needs, but also into any potential breeder that you’re considering going to.
“Today, particularly with the rise of puppies being advertised and sold online, it’s becoming more and more difficult to tell the responsible breeders apart from the unscrupulous ones.
“We would encourage anyone who is thinking of getting a puppy to use the Puppy Contract to help ensure they buy a happy, healthy dog.”
New figures from the RSPCA reveal England’s puppy farming hotspots (based on the number of calls relating to the puppy trade in 2016), with Greater London coming out on top, closely followed by Greater Manchester.
1. Greater London (7.6% of all calls = 280 calls)
2. Greater Manchester (7.3% = 269)
3. West Midlands (5.4% = 198)
4. Kent (4.6% = 168)
5. West Yorkshire (3.8% = 141)
6. South Yorkshire (3.7% = 136)
7. Essex (3.6% = 133)
8. Staffordshire (3.2% = 119)
9. Durham (3.2% = 117)
10. Cheshire (3.1% = 115)
The charity - working alongside Gumtree - also looked into the areas with the highest number of online listings advertising dogs and puppies for sale - with the results painting a very similar picture to the RSPCA’s findings.
In 2016, 204,182** listings for dogs were posted on the online marketplace in Great Britain. Breaking the listings down regionally reveals the country’s puppy selling hotspots (full regional breakdown available):
1. London (7.4% of all listings = 15,052 ads)
2. Manchester (5.1% = 10,414)
3. West Midlands (4.6% = 9,428)
4. West Yorkshire (4.1% = 8,388)
5. County Durham (3.4% = 6,863)
6. Tyne & Wear (3.1% = 6,398)
7. Nottinghamshire (2.8% = 5,706)
8. Kent (2.7% = 5,423)
9. South Yorkshire (2.5% = 5,189)
10. Essex (2.4% = 4,966)
“These statistics reveal the scale of the online puppy selling market and it’s very concerning,” Lisa added.
“We want all sellers to put the welfare of their dogs and puppies ahead of everything else but, unfortunately, there are many dealers who care only about their profits at the expense of the animals’ health and welfare.
“While classified websites, if used responsibly, can be an effective method of advertising for responsible breeders and rescue organisations, sadly, far too many people abuse the internet and this has led to many animal welfare issues arising.
“As well as the classified websites, like Gumtree, working with us to crackdown on these dealers, we also need the public’s help to stamp out this underground trade. So please take care when buying a puppy. We know it’s hard but if you’re concerned about anything when you visit a breeder, walk away and call the RSPCA and your local authority.”
“Whilst most people have safe and successful experiences rehoming dogs on Gumtree, there are a minority of unscrupulous breeders and dealers who put profit ahead of the health and welfare of the animals,” Morten Heuing, general manager at Gumtree UK, said.
“We take the welfare of animals very seriously and work hard to ensure our site is a safe place to find pets in need of rehoming. Our dedicated safety team takes steps to make it as hard as possible for illegal traders to operate on the site. For example, we do not allow ‘wanted’ ads in our ‘Pets’ category and we delete any ads we believe are encouraging or indicate signs of animal cruelty. If users have concerns about an ad on our site, they can use the ‘Report an Ad’ button on our website and our safety team will then investigate it.
“Furthermore, Gumtree works closely with the RSPCA and the Pet Advertising Advisory Group (PAAG) to help educate users on how to buy pets safely and responsibly. Gumtree’s own Pet Advice Hub includes lots of useful advice for people looking to buy a new pet or find a home for a pet they already own.”
RSPCA stings on organised puppy selling networks have uncovered criminal gangs making up to £35,000 a week by selling dozens of puppies - often fashionable breeds and designer crossbreeds. And the charity has rescued more than 1,200 from puppy farms across the country in the past four years - but knows this is just the tip of the iceberg.
If you’re concerned about a breeder, please contact the RSPCA’s 24-hour emergency hotline on 0300 1234 999. And to help the RSPCA continue investigating the illegal puppy trade and rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming dogs saved from puppy farms please visit: www.rspca.org.uk/give or text LOVE to 87023 to give £3 (Text costs £3 + one standard network rate message).