I share your concern about this crime and I wish to assure you that the issue is taken very seriously. The Government are working hard to tackle this problem, targeting both the supply and demand of illegally imported dogs. This approach includes international engagement, enforcement, public communications and tighter regulation.
I believe an EU pet travel regulation introduced in 2014 has strengthened enforcement. The new-style passport is harder to forge, new rules apply when more than five animals are moved together and all EU countries must carry out compliance checks. A 12-week minimum age for rabies vaccination assists compliance checking and restricts the movement of very young animals. As the UK withdraws from the EU, there will be further opportunities to re-evaluate the rules, including the potential for stricter penalties.
There is a robust checking regime for pets travelling here. Every pet travelling with its owner on an approved route is checked for compliance with the travel regime and the UK Border Force carries out a wide range of checks on vehicles arriving in the UK.
Some of the Pet Advertising Advisory Group's minimum standards have become mandatory for online sellers; it has also been made illegal to sell puppies younger than eight weeks, and anyone breeding and selling three or more litters a year must now apply for a formal licence. Following a public consultation where 95 per cent showed support for 'Lucy's Law,' the Government will also be banning third party sales of puppies and kittens.
I am pleased that microchipping for dogs became compulsory for animals over eight weeks of age across England, Scotland and Wales in 2016. One year after the Government introduced this policy, the Dogs Trust reported a reduction of 18 per cent in the total stray dog population. In 2016, UK local authorities collected 81,000 strays, while in 2018 this fell to 56,000.
Government advice to prospective owners is very clear: people who buy a pet are responsible for knowing where it comes from and, if it is found to have been imported illegally, they will be held responsible for any necessary quarantine and veterinary fees.