New measures will close existing loopholes exploited by unscrupulous breeders and traders.

Tougher powers to tackle illegal cat and dog smuggling have taken a significant step forward this week with the announcement of government backing for new legislation. 

Delivering on a key manifesto commitment, under the Animal Welfare (Import of Dogs, Cats and Ferrets) Bill – a Private Members’ Bill sponsored by Selaine Saxby – legislation will be introduced to close existing loopholes exploited by immoral breeders and traders to illegally smuggle cats and dogs into the UK.

There are a significant number of pets imported into the UK every year, with 320,000 brought in under the Pet Travel Scheme, and 44,000 as commercial imports last year.

Support for this Bill builds on the Government’s efforts to enhance our world-leading standards of animal welfare. The UK was the first country in the world to introduce animal cruelty offences and is the highest ranked G7 nation according to World Animal Protection’s Index.

Measures under the Bill will strengthen the Pet Travel Scheme to ensure that no one is able to fraudulently import animals for sale under the guise of being an owner travelling with their own pets. This includes reducing the number of animals that can travel into Great Britain under this scheme from five per person to five per vehicle, or three per foot or air passenger as well as ensuring that pet movements take place within five days of the owner’s travel.

The Bill will allow for the introduction of further legislation to raise the minimum age for importing a puppy or a kitten from 15 weeks to six months, allowing them to grow up ahead of being taken on potentially long and stressful journeys which can have a lasting impact on their temperament and behaviour.  

Secondary legislation under the Bill also allows for the ban on imports of heavily pregnant dogs and cats or animals with cropped ears, docked tails or that have been declawed.

Ear cropping is a painful process where a dog’s outer ears are surgically altered or removed to make them look more aggressive. This inhumane surgical procedure, which has been illegal in this country since 2006, can hinder their ability to communicate with other dogs and their owners. The majority of these dogs are suspected to have undergone the procedure overseas and under the proposed secondary legislation would be banned from entering the country.

Environment Secretary Steve Barclay said: 

“Pet smuggling is an abhorrent trade which causes great suffering to animals.

“As a nation of animal lovers, and a dog lover myself, we will not accept this, which is why we are determined fulfil our manifesto commitment and bring it to an end.

“This Bill will help protect the health and welfare of thousands of animals that are brought into the country each year and stop criminals looking to profit from the rise in demand for pets. We will do all we can to support its swift passage through Parliament.”     

Selaine Saxby MP said:

 “I am glad that the Government is supporting this vital Bill and is committed to its swift passage to safeguard the welfare of thousands of dogs, cats and ferrets that come into Great Britain from overseas each year.

“I would like to thank the tireless campaigning from the pet charities who have shared their views about this Bill. I hope they are reassured by the measures outlined in the Bill, which will stop this cruel puppy and kitten smuggling trade by closing loopholes exploited by unscrupulous commercial traders.

“We really are a nation of pet lovers, and this legislation will ensure that the UK is a world leader in animal welfare.”

Harriet Main, Public Affairs Manager at the RSPCA, said:

“We know many animal lovers share our concern at the numbers of mutilated dogs and cats; and young and pregnant pets being imported into the country.
“So we’re delighted that the Animal Welfare (Import of Dogs, Cats and Ferrets) Bill has passed through the Second Reading stage and that we’re one step closer to living in a country with better protection for our animals.

“This law will take steps towards protecting animals from the suffering they endure as part of this trade, which increasingly involves gangs who are associated with serious organised crime.

“It will also protect cats and dogs from painful procedures such as declawing and ear cropping, and will place restrictions on the ages that cats, dogs and ferrets can be brought into the country from overseas, clamping down on the lucrative trade in puppies and kittens which often seriously compromises their welfare and wellbeing. As we strive for a better world for animals, we are delighted that this Bill is progressing.”

Paula Boyden, Veterinary Director at Dogs Trust, says:

“Dogs Trust has been campaigning for tougher laws around the illegal importation of dogs for over 10 years, during which time we have cared for more than 3,000 puppies caught up in this abhorrent trade.

“This Bill will offer protection to countless dogs and puppies to prevent them suffering at the hands of smugglers. We are delighted that, once passed, it will be illegal to import dogs with brutal mutilations, prevent heavily pregnant dogs from being smuggled in cramped and squalid conditions, and make sure puppies are not exploited by raising the age at which they can be imported to six months.

“We are grateful to Selaine Saxby MP for taking forward her Private Members Bill and are hopeful with Government backing the bill will be passed into law quickly”

Illegal pet smuggling is often associated with serious welfare issues, and pets found to be illegally smuggled face a significantly higher risk of developing illnesses or even death. This Bill allows the government to bring forward a ban or restrictions on low welfare imports of dogs, cats and ferrets into the UK.

By supporting the Bill, the Government is delivering pledges made in its Action Plan for Animal Welfare to clamp down on puppy smuggling.

We have also now achieved our commitment to deliver the Kept Animals Bills measures individually, with all of the measures that needed legislation back before Parliament.

Since publishing the Action Plan for Animal Welfare in 2021, we have also brought in new laws to recognise animal sentience, introduced tougher penalties for animal cruelty offences; announced an extension of the ivory ban to cover other ivory bearing species; supported legislation to ban glue traps, the import of detached shark fins and measures to ban the advertising and offering for sale of low welfare activities abroad. 

Kept Animals Bills measures are:

  • The Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill – which is only possible now we have left the European Union – will put an end to the export of live animals for slaughter and fattening from Great Britain, stopping animals enduring unnecessary stress, exhaustion and injury on long journeys.   
  • The Pet Abduction Bill – which has government support – will create a new specific offence to tackle dog and cat abduction.
  • The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) Bill – also supported by government –  will introduce tougher powers to tackle livestock worrying incidents.
  • The Government have delivered new legislation protecting primates, which will bring in a strict licensing scheme to ensure that only private keepers who meet new welfare and licensing standards will be able to keep primates.

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