A combination of surging demand for dogs along with price rises for some breeds since the start of coronavirus lockdown has seen the number arrive from overseas more than double.
Animal charity, the RSPCA, says licenses issued for commercial import of dogs rose 113 per cent from 5,964 between June and August 2019 to 12,733 in the same period this year.
It comes as competition for dogs sold by rescues centres and breeders has become fierce thanks to more people working from home and wanting a pet – some breeders are charging as much as ten times the adoption rate of some rescues.
Prices vary among breeders but Amy Ockleford, spokeswoman for the RSPCA, says that some are charging extortionate amounts of up to £3,000 for some of the more popular ‘designer’ pooches such as cockapoos.
Local rescue centres like the RSPCA have been flooded with adoption requests creating long waiting lists. Some have been too impatient and are instead looking to adopt dogs from abroad
Adele Pember founder of dog friendly holiday accommodation directory Dog Furiendly, who herself adopted a dog from Romania, says: ‘Cost is a factor as it was a lot cheaper to adopt abroad through the charity we chose.
‘Their total fee was £250 whereas some British rescues charge twice that amount – around £400 – and breeders about four times that.’
A spokesperson from Last Chance Rescue Romania says adoption enquiries have gone up dramatically. ‘Everyone wants a dog at the moment.
‘We used to be lucky if we got two a week but now we get 20 a day. One woman sent in seven applications for seven different dogs.’
However, it is important for people to do their research before committing to adopting a dog from overseas and to take their time – especially if snapping one up from a private seller.
Chris Sherwood, chief executive of the RSPCA, says: ‘Buying an imported puppy leaves new owners open to the very real risk they are supporting cruel puppy farming, with the parents kept in awful conditions, used as breeding machines with sick and dying pups – and there is no real way of checking.
‘Travelling long distances as a young pup is stressful and a real welfare issue. There are also risks of serious disease and future behaviour problems which can leave owners distraught.
‘We in this country are used to being able to order exactly what we want which means if the breed of puppy is not available here, buyers go abroad.
‘We want to encourage people to take their time and wait for the right animal and realise the benefits of rescuing a dog where great efforts are made to make sure you get the animal which is right for your family and circumstances.’
How can you ensure you’re buying from a legitimate organisation?
1. Draw up a contract: The RSPCA says to avoid falling victim to poor breeders and unscrupulous puppy farms you should use a puppy contract.
You can download this from puppycontract.cor.uk. It’s a free tool kit that helps to promote responsible buying and selling of puppies.
2. Make sure the charity is registered: Amy Ockelford says: ‘Get a dog from a reputable rescue charity that is registered.
‘It’s important that the organisation follows the right processes like making sure the pets have the right paperwork, right vaccinations and vet checks.
‘A lot of them are street dogs and come from countries with diseases like rabies that we don’t have in the UK.
‘It’s important they have a clean bill of health for that animal’s welfare and others. They should be registered with the Charity Commission and be able to give you their charity number.’
3. Do your own research: Amy says: ‘Be extremely careful. Research the breeders as there is a lot of people cashing in on the demand and spikes of puppy interest which are typically at the beginning of summer holidays, the lead up to Christmas, and now lockdown.’
4. Get references: Amber Pember adds: ‘All legitimate ones will offer references and do home checks and forms otherwise they will probably be a scam.’
Where are families adopting dogs from?
Families are typically adopting pets from countries in Europe like Romania, Greece and Cyprus but some are adopting from as far afield as Thailand.
Caroline Wilkinson, who runs her own canine behaviourist business, Barket Place, says she’s seen clients adopt a number of dogs from Romania, Cyprus and Hungary.
She adds: ‘Costs of puppies in the UK have risen exponentially – it’s really putting a cost barrier in place for many potential pet parents.’
Adoption fees through charities and organisations that bring dogs vary but the ones This is Money talked to range from £300 to £350.
This drastically undercuts the extortionate fees that some local breeders charge. However, some have seen incredible demand and waiting lists.
There is a perception among some that local charities cost more but Ockelford points out that the RSPCA charges start from a reasonable £150 depending on the type and age of dog.
She says: ‘Prices from our various centres fluctuate but you can get an older dog from £150.
‘They are vaccinated, chipped and have a clean bill of health.
‘We tend to charge more for puppies because of the demand and that starts from £250.’
She adds some centres can offer continuous treatments for older dogs with ongoing conditions like diabetes. ‘Some centres rehome elderly animals with medical problems like diabetes or epilepsy but will offer support for medical costs.
‘Some run a scheme whereby instead of paying adoption fee the owner will pay £10 a month and we’ll pay for all medical expenses for the dog for the rest of its life. The last thing we want is elderly dogs sat in kennels.’
Strict re-homing rules enforced by local rescues have also forced families to look elsewhere.
Wilkinson explains: ‘During lockdown, many rescue centers had also ceased rehoming due to being unable to do the proper home checks.
‘Many rescue centres in the UK have quite strict rehoming criteria – such as the humans not being able to work more than four hours a day (even if they employ a dog walker) or rehoming into families with young children.
‘The difficulty here is that many unsuitable dogs are now finding their way into homes with young children.’
Dogs at local rescues were gone in an instant so I adopted from abroad
Adele Pember, founder of Dog Furiendly adopted her dog mixed breed collie, Minnie from Romania after she was disappointed with the long waits with local rescues.
She says: ‘We really wanted a rescue dog. We tried loads of different British rescues and the queue for so many of them were so long. Dogs would be gone within an instant and we really wanted one as soon as possible.’
Pember adopted her dog for £250 through non-profit organisation Broken Paws Second Chances. ‘When I saw her on the Facebook page and read her story – she was found in a back-alley café – I knew we had to bring her home.
‘We applied to have her and it took about six weeks after our house check, which they did a week after I applied.
Minnie has been on dog-friendly trips to ensure she’s been properly socialised. She’s pictured her at the dog friendly holiday Eastbury Hotel in Sherborne
Change in the law?
It may soon be harder to adopt puppies from abroad as there’s mounting concern about the impact on animal welfare.
Following the exponential rise in puppy imports the RSPCA says it’s calling for a change to the law to increase the age from which puppies are allowed to be adopted form abroad.
It said the rise in demand could fuel a potentially exploitative and damaging trade which causes suffering to young dogs.
Ockelford says: ‘A lot of them are bred in puppy farms in poor conditions. They end up with bad health and behavioural problems.
‘Increasing the age won’t affect legitimate rescues that are helping bring them abroad.
‘It will only affect those trying to make money importing puppies and selling them without welfare as a first priority.’
Caroline Wilkinson further warns that while it may be cheaper to adopt from abroad the ongoing costs may end up being higher.
She says: ‘Many dogs from abroad who are looking for adoption have either been abandoned by humans – and spent some time on the streets – or they have been raised on the streets.
‘This can mean they find the transition into a UK home quite tricky.
‘While you might find that costs are much lower in adopting from abroad, in the long-run you may have higher bills once the dog is living with – as you may require veterinary care or behavioural support.’
Beware the scams
Earlier in the year, This is Money warned over potential scams when it comes to getting pets in lockdown.
When Dogs Trust restarted homing dogs in mid-April, it reported a 87 per cent rise in calls and more than 1,000 emails about rehoming.
However, households are being urged to be mindful of buying pets from unresearched sources, especially those adverting on marketplace websites.
Not only only could they be part of a disreputable home-breeding cottage industry – whether that is in Britain or elsewhere – that has little or no regard for animal welfare, they could also con buyers out of their money.
Action Fraud reported that in March and April, 669 people lost a combined total of £282,686 after paying deposits for pets they’d seen advertised online that didn’t exist.
The over-arching rule is: the welfare of the animal comes first. So if you have done your research into the reputation of the breeder and seller with that in mind, then the chances of you being scammed are minimal.
Action Fraud has put together a list of other top tips to help protect against pet sale scams:
1. Before buying online, check reviews for the website, or person, you are buying from. If you are unsure, ask trusted friends or family for advice.
2. If you can’t physically see the animal in person, ask for a video call. If the seller declines, ask them why. If you have any suspicions, don’t go ahead.
3. Avoid paying by bank transfer as it may offer you little protection. Instead, consider using a credit card or a payment service such as PayPal.
4. If you think you have fallen victim to a fraud, contact Action Fraud as soon as possible.
We adopted our dog from Cyprus
As well as the successful adoption story of Minnie from Romania above, others have told This is Money of their delight in adopting dogs from abroad.
If you are tempted, make sure you do your research, adopt from a reputable charity to give a dog a second chance – rather than a puppy from a private seller where the conditions may be nowhere near British standards.
As Caroline Wilkinson warns above, the initial outlay may be cheaper, but vet bills and ironing out potential behavioral problems may end up outweighing this…
Dee and Chris Featherstone from Peterborough adopted their golden Labrador, Ted, from Cyprus.
Dee says: ‘A friend shared Ted’s picture on Facebook from a dog day care centre called Doggy Pals.
‘We had to pay his vet and passport fees for £165 and the charity in Cyprus organised his fundraising for transport, which was £375.
‘They say it takes six months for the dog from abroad to settle. Ted’s the most laid-back dog you could meet but we don’t know what happened to him.
‘He’s a bit unsure on the lead. He didn’t have a nice life before but it’s the most rewarding thing to see how happy he is now.’
Dee Featherstone and Ted (right) a Labrador that she adopted from Cyprus in 2017. She’s also pictured here with husband Chris and their son Alfi
Mine is from Romania…
Victoria Paterson who works as a soft tissue therapist in Spalding, Lincolnshire, says all the dogs she has now came from Last Chance Rescue who bring dogs over from Romania.
She says: ‘The adoption fee was £300 for each dog. This covered the dogs being neutered, vaccinated to UK standards including rabies, chipping and a dog passport.
Victoria Patterson hugs her dog
‘They travelled to the UK from Romanian in licensed dog transport vehicles.
‘Last Chance was very reputable. We had a home check. All the dogs had a check at the vets upon arrival in the UK and the vets were complementary about all of the dogs.
‘They offer training advice and ongoing support for adopters too.
‘I’d advise people looking to adopt from abroad to make sure their chosen rescue is reputable.
‘We didn’t do any real checks and it was only later I found out how many real life horror stories there are of rescues that take money but never send the dog, or even where the dogs never existed as a dog to be rescued.
‘It can go wrong sometimes, and that’s something to be aware of. It’s not easy but if you can manage to avoid ‘falling in love’ with the dog until he or she arrives, it’s probably better.’