Families are being urged to avoid being tempted into buying puppies online as Christmas presents amid fears the money may be used by criminal gangs to prey on local communities throughout Scotland.
Illegally bred puppies sold through a black-market trade on social media or small advert sites have been identified as a significant source of revenue for serious organised crime gangs.
Now those at the forefront of investigating and prosecuting such gangs have issued a stark warning to parents in the run-up to Christmas over the dangers of buying puppies from unlicensed breeders cashing in on the festive market.
Price tags for some designer breeds can reach as high as £3,000.
Prosecutors at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) are concerned that money raised by unauthorised puppy dealers from some online platforms could be laundered to support drugs-traffickers and other criminal activity as part of a multi-million-pound enterprise.
A Scottish Multi-Agency Strategic Threat Assessment (SMASTA) report published last year reported that the market for illegally traded puppies is estimated at £13million.
So far this year, the Scottish SPCA has received 336 calls in connection with puppy farms and puppy breeding.
Many animals later suffer severe health problems and either cost their new owners huge vets’ bills or are too ill to survive their first few months.
Today, a senior prosecutor urged parents to double-check the legitimacy of sellers if they are buying their children a puppy for Christmas.
Kenny Donnelly, Deputy Crown Agent for Specialist Casework at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), delivered a candid message.
He said: “We understand the popular appeal of buying a puppy for Christmas. But it is important that people are aware that unscrupulous breeders are operating online and targeting unsuspecting members of the public.
“We are aware that organised crime gangs have infiltrated this activity and continue to use the huge profits they accrue from it to inflict widespread harm on communities throughout Scotland.
“Illegal puppy farming has grown significantly among serious organised crime gangs as a way of raising finance. It plays a part in financing crime in Scotland. These gangs are involved in the distribution of illegal drugs and money laundering.
“Therefore, it is critically important that anyone considering buying a puppy is aware of the pitfalls in respect of not buying from legitimate dog breeders and unintentionally supporting this cruel and illegal trade which exploits pets and causes them terrible suffering.
“This trade is inevitably more focused at Christmas so we would seriously urge people to only buy puppies from properly licensed breeders.
“By doing this, you are also helping to choke off a revenue supply to serious organised crime gangs and reducing the harm they inflict on Scottish communities.”
Scottish SPCA chief superintendent, Mike Flynn, said, “Although the low-welfare trade in puppies has slowed due to the ending of lockdown and the cost-of-living crisis, we know that unscrupulous breeders are still out there targeting unsuspecting members of the public.
“Trafficked pups often look fine when they are purchased, but problems will begin to show at a later stage.
“Our message to the general public remains the same – do not buy online or from someone where it is impossible to verify where the dog is actually coming from. The only way this will disappear, and people stop profiteering at the expense of these dogs, is if public demand stops.”
Detective Chief Superintendent Dave Ferry, Police Scotland’s Head of Organised Crime, said:
“We know organised criminals will take every opportunity to exploit people to make profit from illicit activities, and dog breeding is not immune.
“Anyone considering buying a puppy should research the potential breeder carefully, as unauthorised breeding can have a significant impact on the welfare of dogs.
“Police Scotland continues to work closely with our colleagues in the Serious Organised Crime taskforce to target those involved and investigate any illegal trading.”