Tracing the dubious puppy trade
The trade in all kinds of young pedigree animals is flourishing. In 2020, the demand for dogs from countries outside of Switzerland increased dramatically. Countless breeders and sellers are looking to make profits with highly questionable methods, some of them criminal, and practically all in violation of animal welfare laws. Together with the animal welfare organization FOUR PAWS, the Stiftung für das Tier im Recht (TIR; Foundation for the Animal in the Law) has worked hard in recent months to address the legal and practical challenges of curbing the puppy trade.
October 29, 2021
According to the Identitas AG dog database Amicus there are currently some 530,000 registered dogs living in Switzerland, and the number is in fact rising. On December 31, 2020, there were 11,580 more registrations than during the previous year, meaning an increase of 2.2%. Identitas has confirmed that more than half of these dogs were imported. In 2020 alone, around 30,700 dogs were brought into Switzerland, which means that some 85 animals crossed the border daily. That is more than twice as many dogs as in 2008 (12,000), according to a study by Swiss Animal Protection SAP. Additionally, the percentage of puppies aged 56 to 98 days rose sharply by 28% compared to the previous year, according to Identitas. The FSVO estimates that a substantial number of dogs were either never cleared through customs and/or were imported as pets belonging to the importer and were then resold - both are against the law. It is therefore no surprise that, since the spring of 2020, twice as many fatally ill puppies have been admitted to the animal hospital in Zurich than before the pandemic.
One reason the international puppy trade is so successful is that these animals are usually sold at much lower prices than dogs bred in Switzerland. They are also often sold on the internet with the convenient option of “home delivery". Swiss breeders cannot keep up with the demand for puppies of trending breeds like Chihuahuas, Miniature Spitz, French Bulldogs, and Pugs, which is why they are among the most frequent victims of the trade in "cheap puppies". In mass breeding facilities, females are constantly impregnated, and puppies are usually separated from their mothers and siblings far too early. Pathogens and parasites can spread rapidly due to the considerable number of animals, and the housing and transport conditions are typically deplorable. All this results in permanent psychological and physical damage to both the mother and her young. It is not uncommon for the recipient of an animal in Switzerland to end up with an illegally imported puppy that is already fatally ill upon arrival. In addition to the emotional burden associated with accompanying a suffering animal on its final journey, the owner usually faces high administrative costs and potential criminal charges due to the illegal import, not to mention substantial expenses for veterinary care, which all far exceed the cheap purchase price. Costs of up to 8,000 Swiss francs and more are quite common.
Future buyers are advised to do their research on the seller and the breeding facility before purchasing a dog. If you choose to buy from another country, then make sure to ask for the necessary papers in advance and have them be checked by experts. The first three digits of the microchip number can be used to find out the animal’s country of origin and the respective entry regulations. Even if the animal is not imported by the buyer personally, they will still bear the consequences if the animal is suspected of having rabies because it was not imported correctly. The worst-case scenario is euthanasia.
However, it is not enough to appeal to the responsibility of the buyers alone. There is also an urgent need for adjustments at the legal level, especially since the current legal provisions governing the pet trade are clearly ineffective in putting an end to the illegal or otherwise problematic puppy trade. For example, national and international import regulations still primarily aim at preventing the importation of epidemics and diseases, not at protecting animals. In neighboring countries that also struggle with the consequences of the illegal puppy trade, more far-reaching measures have already been introduced. France, for instance, aims for a ban on the private sale of pets over the internet from 2024. Only authorized breeders and animal shelters will still be allowed to offer their animals online. In Austria, a comparable regulation has been in force for quite some time. This is a welcome approach that should also be considered in Switzerland.
For this reason, TIR and FOUR PAWS are working to achieve stricter import and trade licensing regulations and to constantly raise awareness in society about the animal suffering behind the puppy trade. TIR and FOUR PAWS see stronger import regulations, like the introduction of a general permit requirement for the import of pets, and increased border inspections as another possibility to curb the puppy trade. If ruthless sellers were turned away at the border, the trade would eventually end. FOUR PAWS’ model solution also ensures full international traceability and transparency in the pet trade.