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2021: a Good Year in the Fight Against the Illegal Puppy Trade

The main successes towards ending the illegal puppy trade in Europe during 2021 


The start of the pandemic in 2020 brought a sudden and significant increase in puppy sales in many countries, and in 2021 the numbers of ads for dogs on classified ad platforms across Europe continued to increase. By the end of 2021, the total number of ads for puppies on many online classified sites had doubled since the previous year, especially for the most popular breeds. With this boom, many illegal dealers profited from unaware buyers, insufficient controls, and weaknesses in existing legislation.   

Legislation is key to ending the illegal trade. From the breeding of dogs, to the transport and the trade online, there are multiple aspects of the puppy trade that need thorough regulation to ensure the welfare of animals and the safety of potential buyers. This is why FOUR PAWS welcomed the introduction and advancement of several important laws across Europe in 2021, in efforts to combat the illegal puppy trade.

Here is an overview of the main legal changes and commitments for better protection of pets across Europe in 2021:

1. The Animal Health Law of the European Union

A big milestone was achieved in the legal regulation of the registration of the breeding establishments within the EU when the Animal Health Law (Regulation (EU) 2016/429) came into effect in April 2021. It sets stricter requirements for establishments and operators in the business of breeding, keeping and transporting dogs, cats and ferrets, and regulates the cross-border movement of the animals. All dog and cat sellers, breeders and transporters must now register their establishments with their national authority. As a next step to ensure the strict implementation of this law, FOUR PAWS is calling for additional measures, including a Delegated Act on Identification and Registration (microchipping) at European level and enforcement measures in Member States.

2. The illegal puppy trade was recognised as 'organised crime'

The EU Strategy to tackle Organised Crime 2021-2025 recognized the illegal trade in companion animals as a form of organized crime with severe implications: “All kinds of wildlife – plants, animals and derived products – as well as companion animals continue to be traded illegally, often on a large scale and sometimes with potential devastating consequences. The illegal trade of companion animals is now considered in the same context as drugs, weapons and firearms trading, and shows that serious measures will be needed to combat it.

3. Lithuania introduced mandatory identification and registration (I&R) of all dogs and cats

Lithuania has had mandatory I&R for the dogs, cats and ferrets since 2016, but only during a change of ownershipBut in 2021 new amendments were introduced to Lithuania’s animal welfare legislation and mandatory I&R for all cats, dogs and ferrets was adopted. All dogs and cats in Lithuania who are kept for breeding must also now be registered, and breeders need an activity identification number in a registry maintained by the state. There is a transition period until May 2022 for the new legislation to be fully implemented. 

4. Germany committed to introducing a mandatory I&R of dogs and mandatory identity checks for dogs sold online

After being noticeably one of the few remaining EU countries without mandatory I&R together with Estonia, the Czech Republic and Poland - the new government of Germany made a significant commitment in their coalition contract to introduce mandatory I&R for dogs and identity checks for dogs sold onlineAs Germany is one of the main markets for illegal puppy dealers, with a huge number of illegally imported puppies traveling through and being sold in Germany each year, this is a key step to combatting the problem Europe-wide. As a next step, FOUR PAWS will continue to campaign for the new obligations of dog owners and online marketplaces to become reality.

5. France introduced mandatory verification of the registration of dogs sold online into the new French animal welfare legal provisions

Among many other progressive regulations, the new animal welfare law which was voted in France in November includes an article regulating the offering of dogs for sale online. According to it, any communication service or public advertiser authorizing the dissemination of offers of domestic carnivores for sale, need to implement a prior control system to verify the validity of the registration of the animal. This is a big step towards the full traceability of the dogs offered online as it has the potential to block the market access of the illegal dealers to the market.

6. Introduction of new regulations for breeders and dealers of puppies in the Netherlands

After November, 2021, a dog can only be sold or transferred in the Netherlands only if it is chipped, registered with the responsible national authorities and has a EU passport. The first owner – be it the breeder, a private individual with a litter of puppies or a person importing the dog into the country need to be registered in the new system to receive a unique number making them traceable and accountable. 

7. Legislative processes began in multiple countries, including Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, Spain and the UK

Multiple other legal proposals, public consultations and initiatives were introduced in further European countries. These include a public consultation in Austria for increasing the minimum age for imported puppies; a public consultation in Bulgaria for an update of the Bulgarian Veterinary Act, including a possibility to regulate the breeding and selling of dogs; a National Citizens Initiative in Denmark for regulating the importation and trade of dogs called “Freya’s Law”; proposals for new regulations in the animal welfare legislations of Hungary and Spain and a consultation aimed at increasing the minimum age of imported puppies, bans on dogs with mutilations and transporting of pregnant dams in the UK, as well as positive steps towards regulating the online pet trade.

Together, these developments show we are headed towards stricter regulations around the breeding and selling of dogs in Europe, which will continue through the next years.

8. Regulating the online pet trade via the EU Digital Services Act

In December 2020 the European Commission submitted a legislative proposal to the European Parliament and the Council for a Regulation on a Single Market for Digital Services (Digital Services Act). It aims to update the framework on online services and create a safer digital space for users. The Digital Services Act may also introduce a set of requirements for platforms pertaining to the traceability of online sellers, which would become a key stumbling block for illegal puppy dealers. You can support our campaigning, calling for improvement to the Digital Service Act.

FOUR PAWS has been working to stop the illegal puppy trade for over than 13 years, with a special focus on the online trade since 2016.

Read more about our 'Tracing the Trade' campaign

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