Warning that Christmas puppy purchases could fund organised crime gang networks

Warning that Christmas puppy purchases could fund organised crime gang networks

Puppies in a cage - image by Scottish SPCA
Alan Robertson

People who buy puppies as Christmas presents from unauthorised breeders could be getting duped into helping to fund organised crime in Scotland. That was the stark warning from prosecutors at the Crown Office as law agencies look to choke off a source of revenue for gang networks all over the country. 

Latest statistics reveal that illegal puppy farming in Scotland is now a multi-million industry. 

According to a Scottish Multi-Agency Strategic Threat Assessment (SMASTA) report published last month, the market for illegally traded puppies is now worth a staggering £13million.  And up to one in four buyers could be purchasing a dog reared in appalling conditions by criminals. 

The trade is often carried out through online platforms, particularly Gumtree, free ads and Pets4Homes.  

Some sought-after designer breeds, such as Chow Chows or Cavapoos, can be priced as high as £3000.  But many animals later suffer serious health problems and either cost their new owners huge vets’ bills or are too sick to survive.  Black market puppy farming also seriously impacts the lawful business interests of thousands of properly licensed breeders in Scotland. 

Prosecutors urged parents to double-check the legitimacy of sellers if they are buying their children a dog for Christmas.  Laura Buchan, Procurator Fiscal for Specialist Casework, said:

“We realise the popular attraction that many people have of buying a puppy as a Christmas present. Organised crime gangs have infiltrated this activity and continue to use the profits they accrue from it to inflict widespread harm on communities throughout Scotland". 

“Illegal puppy farming has grown significantly among Serious Organised Crime Gangs as a vital way of raising finance. These gangs are involved in the distribution of illegal drugs and money laundering. We would urge people to ensure they buy dogs from properly licensed breeders or from recognised outlets.” 

According to the SMASTA report, there are currently three SOCGs involved in the illicit puppy trade, and a further seven groups recorded as having links to puppy farms and dog trading businesses.  Demand for puppies during the COVID-19 pandemic soared to unprecedented levels as thousands of people sought companionship in a pet.  However, that increased interest led to a huge jump in the cost of puppies, many of which are illegally imported from Ireland.  

Criminal gangs in the Irish Republic and the north have used Cairnryan port as a main channel for bringing badly bred pups to the UK. The situation has also been exploited by illicit and low welfare breeders. Almost one in four consumers may have inadvertently bought from a puppy farm, the report warned. 

Detective Chief Superintendent Stuart Houston, of Police Scotland, said: “Unauthorised breeding is extremely serious and has a significant impact on dogs’ welfare. We would urge anyone considering buying a puppy to look into breeders before committing to purchasing. 

“Police Scotland takes this type of activity very seriously and will fully investigate any cases.” 

Puppies bought from unlicensed breeders and dealers frequently suffer from behavioural issues, congenital health defects and infectious diseases.  Consumer detriment ranges from the costs associated with unexpected vet bills to quarantine costs, and in extreme cases, the emotional and financial costs associated with a dog that may not live. 

Prosecutors in the specialist Wildlife and Environmental Crime Unit routinely provide advice and assistance to police officers and SSPCA inspectors supporting their investigations into offences relating to puppy farming.  On receipt of a report of circumstances relating to puppy farming, specialist prosecutors consider a range of legislation at their disposal in order to bring offenders to justice.     

A spokesperson for the Scottish SPCA said: “Puppies are treated like a commodity, bred in huge numbers with no regard for their welfare. The conditions they are born in lead to serious medical and behavioural issues and, in many instances, death at just a few weeks old.  

“Our special investigations unit investigated hundreds of reports of puppy farms last year. They have successfully raided puppy farms and individuals involved in the greed-driven trade have been prosecuted.” 

Prosecutors in Scotland are committed to tackling illegal puppy breeding through using proceeds of crime legislation to recover the proceeds of criminal activities, as well as prosecution. 

Laura Buchan added: “We will pursue and penalise this illegal activity on the public’s behalf with the express aim of bring to justice all those who are a part of it. And by doing so we aim to reduce the size of this illegal market in Scotland.” 

One of the saddest aspects to the situation is that there are literally thousands of dogs available for adoption in rescue centres across Scotland who would love to be rehomed into a family environment.  Many of these centres are located in rural areas due to the nature of keeping numbers of dogs within a compound. One such example is Greyhound Rescue Fife, established in 2005 in response to the sheer number of unwanted greyhounds reaching the end of their racing careers and located on the outskirts of Kinross

Information about how to avoid buying pets from illegal puppy farms can be found on the Scottish Society for the Protection of Animals’ website Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals | SSPCA (scottishspca.org)