A Year of Waiting for Puppy Smuggling Crackdown

08 JUNE 2022

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A year ago, on June 8 2021, the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill began its journey into law. However, after a barnstorming start, progress by the government has stalled. The Bill will play a major role in protecting dogs and cats and clamping down on puppy smuggling, so Battersea is working with other animal charities to try to hurry it into law.

Why do we need this law?

Now that the UK has left the European Union, the rules on bringing animals in and out of the country need to be reworked. The Kept Animals Bill establishes the new framework for transporting animals across borders,as well as creating many other animal-related rules, including a crackdown on dog theft.

The increased demand for kittens and puppies due to the COVID-19 pandemic made clear the need for stronger laws on pet imports. Unscrupulous breeders looking to cash-in exploit the current law in order to bring puppies and kittens into the country, with very little concern for the welfare of these vulnerable animals.

Exploiting the system

The Bill currently proposes introducing stricter limits on how many dogs and cats an ordinary pet owner can bring into the country when they go on holiday, travel for work, or other reasons that don’t involve selling the animals they bring into the country. This is called non-commercial pet travel. This will affect people travelling overseas and back with their pets by ferry or the Channel Tunnel.

The current pet travel rules allow each person in a non-commercial vehicle, such as a household car, to bring five dogs or cats in and out of the UK. This means a car with four people in it could bring 20 dogs into the UK. These rules are exploited by unscrupulous dealers to bring puppies, often bred in low welfare conditions, into the UK for sale, illegally avoiding the rules that are supposed to govern commercial puppy imports and protect dog welfare.

Lower limits

The Government wants to crack down on this illegal practice, which is called puppy smuggling. The suggested rules under the Kept Animals Bill would reduce the number of pet dogs or cats that can be brought in under non-commercial import rules to a maximum of five in a single car.

Battersea believes this is still too high. While not as lucrative as the current limits, puppy smugglers could still exploit being able to import five dogs per car. A study from 2019 found that 99% of UK dog owners owned three or fewer dogs. We believe the limit should therefore be reduced to three as this will cover nearly all ordinary dog owners travelling with their pets, and we want the Bill to be amended to make this change.

Progress stalled

The Bill advanced to its Committee Stage in the House of Commons in November 2021 but has made no Parliamentary progress since, and with no date announced for its next stage. It is concerning that the Government has yet to commit to a clear timetable for such an important Bill with wide-ranging implications for animal welfare.

Successful changes in the law have given animal lovers many reasons to cheer in recent years, particularly the new five year maximum sentences for animal cruelty, but the unexplained delays to the Government’s animal welfare agenda are a worry for dog and cat owners, and all those people wanting to welcome new pets into their homes in the coming years.

Future steps

The next hurdle the Bill must pass is the House of Commons Report Stage, but the Government hasn’t yet set a date for this. Even when that stage is complete, the Bill still has a long way to go, with a Third Reading in the Commons and all the Bill stages in the House of Lords to pass through before it becomes law. We are therefore urging MPs to call on the Government to bring the Kept Animals Bill back before Parliament as soon as possible, and to make the amendment on the number of animals allowed in non-commercial vehicles.

You can find updates on our work to amend the Kept Animals Bill and push it into law by following our Battersea Public Affairs Twitter account and by signing up for Battersea campaign updates.

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