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Smugglers cash in on handbag dogs craze

THE GROWING popularity of lapdogs and the abolition of European Union border controls have caused a boom in the cruel smuggling of puppies from eastern Europe.

Customs authorities and animal rights groups have warned that rogue breeders are exploiting the demand for small ‘handbag’ dogs, used as fashion accessories by celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Britney Spears.

Breeds such as Chihuahuas, Yorkshire Terriers and Golden Retrievers are being bred in filthy conditions and then transported in cramped cages and cardboard boxes to street markets to be sold at cut price.

Often they are crammed 30 at a time into car boots in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland for a stressful journey to Germany, Austria and as far west as Holland and Sweden.

‘Dogs are bred in circumstances unthinkable to any serious breeder,’ said Katja Wolf from Austria’s Kennel Club.

‘The dealers just regard the animals as merchandise. It’s dirty and they contract all sorts of illnesses. If a bitch cannot have any more offspring she is killed.’

An investigation by the animal rights group Four Paws found rogue traders luring customers with slick websites, claiming to be professional breeders in Vienna. In fact the puppies were being bred in grim concrete warehouses across the border in Hungary. They were smuggled every weekend in a sports bag to a shabby pet shop in Vienna.

No pedigrees or breeding records were provided and buyers paid in cash. Internet messages from customers revealed that many dogs were inbred and had mental problems. One woman said she had been tricked into buying a sick puppy that had not been inoculated. It died within a week.

Videos shot by Four Paws show puppies clambering over one another in cramped cages at markets in Hungarian tourist resorts. Expensive breeds can often be found for 10% of their normal price - a tempting prospect when a well-bred Chihuahua can cost more than £1,000.
‘There’s a trend to buy Chihuahuas, as teenagers see their favourite celebrities, such as Paris Hilton, using them as accessories,’ said Tamara Risch from Four Paws Austria.

A cheap dog could come at a heavy price, she explained. Such animals often missed out on vaccinations, resulting in parasites and diseases that could lead to an early death.

The abolition of EU border controls means there are now no checks on whether dogs have been inoculated or are legally old enough to be transported.

Swedish customs said 150 dogs had been seized in a year, many diseased. One couple were jailed for trying to smuggle in 55 dogs from Poland. ‘Smuggling of small dogs is on the rise,’ said Ingemar Persson, a Swedish customs official.

Marie-Claire Macintosh from Four Paws UK said the organisation was investigating whether puppies from eastern Europe were reaching Britain. She said the UK already had its own flourishing trade among unscrupulous breeders. ‘We want people to adopt animals from proper shelters,’ she said.