Dog charities warning of the horrific scam of dogfishing where young puppies die within days of being bought are sharing their top tips of how not to fall victim to it.
The Dog's Trust and the RSPCA are receiving dozens of complaints and heartbreaking stories of young dogs being taken in by families, only to be left with huge vet bills and the animals dying.
Every year puppies are illegally imported into the country and mis-sold via online adverts to unsuspecting dog lovers who think they are getting a healthy, happy puppy bred in the UK.
Many of these little animals suffer serious health conditions or lifelong behavioural challenges, and some don't survive, leaving their buyers helpless and heartbroken, as well as out of pocket.
They say there are red flags that should make you walk away from any puppy purchase, and if you can opt for a rescue pup instead.
Have you been a victim of dogfishing? Email [email protected]
Research, Research, Research
If you are thinking of buying a puppy, do your research. Find out about the breed; ask people you trust for recommendations on good breeders; know what price you should expect to pay.
Adopt, don't shop
Consider giving a rescue dog a new home instead of buying a puppy - rescue centres across the country have dogs of all ages, sizes, breeds and personalities all looking for new homes.
Go and see the puppy at the seller's home more than once before buying it, see them interacting with his siblings and mother. Be wary of any seller who doesn't allow this.
While you are there ask to see paperwork, vet and health checks and any other documentation, and ask lots of questions.
Receiving fake microchip or vaccination information or the puppy having a foreign microchip or passport should raise concerns. Also be wary if you are misled about the puppy’s age and/or breed.
Never pay in cash for your new animal or agree to meet in a service station or car park to collect it. Don't feel pressured to pay up.
If you have any concerns about what you see then don't hand over any money, walk away and report it to the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999, local police on 101 or Trading Standards.
Paula Boyden, Dogs Trust’s veterinary director, said: "It is absolutely heartbreaking that we continue to see dogs being illegally imported into the country, often in terrible conditions to make huge profits for cruel puppy smugglers.
"We might be in the midst of a pandemic, but these devious sellers will still use every trick in the book to scam unsuspecting dog lovers.
"Sadly, it’s all too easy to be dogfished and it can be very difficult to know if you are buying a puppy that has been smuggled. We would advise you to always see a puppy with and interacting with their mum and go and see it more than once.
"Ask lots of questions, and ask to see vital paperwork, such as a puppy contract. If you have any doubts or it feels too good to be true, as hard as it may be, walk away and report the seller."
Chief inspector Ian Briggs, from the RSPCA's special operations unit, said: "The RSPCA has investigated more than 28,000 complaints related to the illegal puppy trade in England and Wales over the last decade.
"We would urge anybody thinking of getting a puppy to be extremely cautious when researching who or where to buy from, and we'd encourage people to first consider adopting instead of buying.
"Sadly there are many unscrupulous breeders and sellers out there who are willing to exploit the demand for certain breeds in order to make a quick buck, very often at the expense of the dogs' welfare.
"That's why we're calling on any prospective puppy buyers to do lots of research before getting a puppy and to use The Puppy Contract to help them buy a happy, healthy dog from a responsible breeder."