PILED on top of each other and surrounded by their own waste, the terrified French bulldog puppies stare blankly at the camera with bloodshot eyes.
The ten wretched youngsters were found stashed beneath a blanket under the front seat of a car — one with its tiny head trapped by the seat mechanism.
Estimated to be just three weeks old and too young to be separated from their mother, they were so heavily sedated it took three days for them to regain full consciousness.
They being smuggled into Britain by two men who had travelled from Poland, and were discovered during a spot border check.
And despite round-the-clock care by staff at the quarantine kennel, who hand-fed the newborns using syringes, one of the pups tragically died three weeks later.
The little dog was the victim of a puppy-smuggling market estimated to be worth £100million a year — and of shamefully lax UK laws.
Paula Boyden, the veterinary director of charity Dogs Trust, said: “Even if someone is caught the penalties are absolutely paltry.
“The maximum sentence you would get is up to three months’ imprisonment, compared with seven years’ imprisonment for smuggling cigarettes.”
A single French bulldog pup fetches up to £1,500 in the UK — making pet-lovers here an irresistible target for smugglers.
One Hungarian dealer told undercover investigators more than 400 designer-breed puppies are exported each week from his home town alone, giving an average annual turnover of £28million.
The tiny pups were hand fed to help them survive after their rescueAn investigation by Dogs Trust also revealed corrupt vets across Europe who are willing to supply sedatives to allow dealers to sneak the puppies across the UK border more easily.
The charity’s findings, released today, expose the loopholes in the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS), designed for the transportation of family pets.
In 2012, the Government relaxed the rules, allowing pet passports to be issued to younger pups than before. This means criminals can present buyers with fake passports for tiny pets they have smuggled in.
Ms Boyden said: “Some don’t survive the journey, and those who do may have physical health and behavioural issues due to their poor start in life. They are just stock to these puppy smugglers. They are not considered living creatures at all.”
She added that it is an “absolute lottery” as to whether smuggled pups are found, as there are only random spot checks on vehicles at the border.
Disease may also be being smuggled into Britain, as many pups are brought outside the EU where disease is rife. They are often issued with fake EU pet passports by dodgy vets to fool officials and buyers.
The charity is calling on the Government to overhaul pet travel legislation and increase penalties for those caught — and urges Sun readers to contact their local MPs on the issue.
Ms Boyden said: “You can buy a French bulldog puppy for a few hundred pounds in Europe and sell it for around £1,500 here so with those gains you would be prepared to take the risk.
“Unless there are greater penalties there these individuals are going to continue to do this. These border controls are almost a blank cheque for these illegal importers.
“This is our fourth report in four years and despite flagging it to the Government all of that time, the situation hasn’t really changed at all and that’s truly really sad.
“We can’t quantify the exact numbers of puppies coming into the country but I’m fairly sure we’re just scratching the surface.”
Even well-informed pet buyers with the best intentions are now being outwitted by the gangs.
For example families, knowing about the illegal puppy trade, have begun to ask to meet the pups’ mum before the birth. The idea is that this means the pups are from a genuine British home.
But instead it has led to a boom in heavily pregnant dogs being brought to Britain in cages so the pups are born here.
In other cases, a “stooge” adult dog plays the part of the pups’ mother to well-meaning buyers who see the pets advertised online on sites like Gumtree.
Animal lover and talkRADIO host Matthew Wright, who is backing the campaign to tighten laws, said: “We know that as potential buyers have got wise, breeders have got wise. Buyers have been told that you should see the mother there with her puppies so it has got harder for the dealers to meet people in car parks.
“You would have to turn up at a house and you would be presented with a mum with her puppies but the breeders don’t necessarily put the right dog in. They just want a good-conditioned dog to help sell the puppies.”
The presenter, 53, who has a miniature schnauzer named Wiggy, added: “You can appreciate it’s getting harder and harder for even well minded potential buyers.”
Smuggling gangs often rent “show homes” where they present the pups and their “mum” to buyers.
The ten Frenchie pups were travelling with an adult female dog who was not their mum, apparently to act as such a stooge.
Ms Boyden said: “Had these puppies not been seized, they would have been taken to one of these show homes with the stooge mum, an advert would have been put on Gumtree and someone would have unwittingly bought them.”
The nine surviving puppies and the older female have since been rehomed by the Dogs Trust.
Julie Thompson, 60, from Driffield, East Yorks, adopted one from the charity’s Leeds centre in April.
Healthcare assistant Julie said of ten-month-old Lucy: “It tears your heart apart to think of how she was transported, not knowing what was going to happen.
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“Overall, she is great. She is mischievous and full of personality. But I have noticed that if she sees a large, white van she gets frightened so we suspect that is linked to how she was transported. It’s so upsetting to think she has that memory.
“I’ll never know exactly what she suffered.”
Julie added that this should act as a stark warning that people should never buy a puppy online.
She said: “You wouldn’t buy a child online would you so why consider buying a puppy online?
- “They are a precious family member who will be part of your family for years so don’t take a risk — and don’t risk unknowingly fuelling the puppy-smuggling trade.”
For more information and to help put a stop to #PuppySmuggling got to puppysmuggling.org.uk.
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