Investigation into the illegal puppy trade in Romania

Puppy Scammers Exposed

New FOUR PAWS report into international puppy trade exposes animal cruelty 


Vienna, 29 November 2023 – Global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS has released a new report titled ‘Puppy Scammers’ on 29 November. It reveals how unethical puppy breeders scam unsuspecting buyers with poorly bred and potentially sick puppies. Investigations conducted by FOUR PAWS in the UK, the Netherlands, Romania, and Bulgaria from 2021 to 2022 expose the questionable legitimacy of puppies advertised on classified sites. Findings across all countries emphasise how easily cross-border dealers sell underage puppies online, shedding light on lax identity verification for sellers and insufficient confirmation of both puppy and seller registration in a pet microchip registration database.

The investigations revealed that an alarming number of puppies advertised on classified ad sites in the UK and the Netherlands are being illegally imported from Eastern Europe. In the UK almost a third of surveyed classified ads were advertising illegally imported puppies, and in the Netherlands 40% of puppy ads showed signs of illicit imports. On one of the investigated classified ad sites in the UK almost a half of all puppy ads were confirmed to be illegal imports. Investigators followed leads from the adverts and met with owners of puppy farms, puppy dealers, who all offered underage puppies for sale, many with fraudulent documentation, as well as the vets who were complicit.

In all countries where investigations took place, laws and animal welfare requirements were wilfully disregarded, with unscrupulous puppy dealers employing deceptive methods to trick buyers into purchasing illegally imported puppies. They use multiple online accounts, a range of identities, numerous phone numbers and false locations to sell puppies without accountability. They sell puppies that are too young with dubious veterinary paperwork. Early separation can lead to various health and development issues later in life due to the strains endured by the young puppies during transportation. Moreover, a lack of veterinary care and vaccination can lead to the transmission of zoonotic diseases such as rabies, ringworms or parasites to the new owners and other pets.

“These investigations show that this cruel trade is thriving, crossing boarders and breaking laws. Not only does the trade abuse animals, using cruel breeding practices and creating unhealthy puppies, but it also makes victims of people too. While this report covers four countries, we believe it is representative of the situation across Europe and the EU. We urgently call on EU and national legislators to create stronger laws to stop the trade.” 

Nick Weston, Head of International Companion Animal Campaigns at FOUR PAWS

The illegal puppy trade flourishes during the festive season

Thousands of puppies are bred on puppy farms in Eastern Europe every year and then exported to Western Europe to be sold online by puppy dealers, especially during the festive season. Despite the seemingly heart-warming gesture, gifting a puppy during the holidays carries significant risks. Recipients may lack the readiness or suitable lifestyle for pet ownership. Selecting a pet should be a thoughtful and personal decision, ensuring compatibility between owner and animal. Quick, uninformed purchases, especially online, contribute to the illegal puppy trade and may result in acquiring sick animals. FOUR PAWS urges prospective pet owners to exercise caution, advocating for responsible choices that prioritise animal welfare.

FOUR PAWS launched its ‘Cute. Quick. Sick.’ campaign in April 2022 to raise awareness of the risks of buying a puppy online and help potential puppy buyers to make the right choices when getting a puppy. 

A short version of the ‘Puppy Scammers’ report can be found here.

For more information on the campaign

Katharina Braun

Katharina Braun

Team Lead Public Relations

+43 (0) 664 885 33 270

VIER PFOTEN International 
Linke Wienzeile 236
1150 Vienna, Austria

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FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions.

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