Lured by lower prices for pedigree puppies, German dog lovers are turning to
Eastern Europe. But often the cut-price pooches come with diseases and
behavioral problems, and sometimes die after just a few days.
Lured by lower prices for pedigree puppies, German dog lovers are turning to Eastern Europe to find their Fido. But often the cut-price pooches come with diseases and behavioral problems, and sometimes die after just a few days. Animal welfare organizations are trying to halt the trade.
The silver-gray Volkswagen van stands a little way away from the entrance to the car park, next to the bustling market in the Polish town of Slubice. The driver opens the back door of the vehicle. His freight requires some fresh air. It is whimpering.
Inside the van, there are cages stuffed with dogs. A litter of tiny Yorkshire terriers rub against each other, young attack dogs peer out between the bars of their cage and two husky puppies perch in their own feces.
The driver, a Polish man, doesn’t speak much German. At least, he doesn’t speak much German when his clientele question him about the ages, origins or vaccinations of his cargo. Instead he shrugs and pulls out a packet of animal passports, certificates required in the European Union for pets crossing borders. They are obviously forged.
Nonetheless, many customers who cross the border from the German city of Frankfurt an der Oder to the neighboring Polish town of Slubice looking for a canine bargain, prefer to ignore all that. The puppies are simply too cute, the empathy the customers have for the caged creatures is too great and the price is too tempting. Pedigree dogs may cost hundreds of euros from reliable dog breeders, but here you can get a trendy breed of dog for between €35 ($42) and €50 ($60).
The Monor pet market in Hungary: “The puppy trade has become a business worth millions,”
says Birgitt Thiesmann of the international animal charity Four Paws.
Black Market in Puppies worth Millions
Anyone taking up that offer, though, will not only be the proud owner of a new pooch, but also a victim of the Eastern European puppy mafia. In Poland, Hungary, Romania and Ukraine, dogs are being produced for the Western European market on a grand scale — and in pitiful conditions. Fed on trash and crammed into dirty kennels, the bitches must give birth twice a year until they become infertile. The puppies are taken to market far too early and are often only four weeks old when they leave their mothers. Small wonder, then, that they have weak immune systems and sometimes suffer from behavioral disorders.
“The puppy trade has become a business worth millions,” says Birgitt Thiesmann of the international animal charity Four Paws, which has nine offices in Europe. For years, animal welfare activists have been watching the black market for imported dogs grow. The Internet has accelerated the trade. There, the dogs are presented as if they were coming from responsible dog breeders.
The problem is so big that several animal welfare organizations — European Animal and Nature Protection (ETN), TASSO and the League against Animal Abuse (BMT) — have named 2010 the year “against the dubious puppy trade.” The groups want to clarify exactly what goes on inside the business and thereby reduce the demand on the part of bargain-hunting German dog lovers.
Buy the Dog, Get the Diarrhea Free
The suffering of the animals is considerable. Because of the high costs involved, they are neither de-wormed nor vaccinated. They are taken illegally across borders in the trunks of cars without any of the EU-required documentation — neither the EU animal passports nor certifications of vaccination nor electronic microchip implants for identification.
Should an illegal dog shipment be caught out, confiscation and a fine are the worst punishments that can be expected, as animals are currently covered by the legislation regarding the movement of objects. Additionally, inspectors are often happy to look the other way. The animal shelters that would have to take the confiscated animals in, would not be able to cope with the onslaught of homeless creatures.
Nobody has any real interest in halting this lucrative business. Estimates suggest that Germans spend around €5 billion a year on keeping their pet dogs. But Germans who buy illegal dogs often only find out just how expensive their supposed bargain will be when they get their new darling home and he or she promptly vomits on the carpet. Illegally imported dogs often come with a range of ailments, including diarrhea, canine distemper, canine parvovirus (a highly infectious virus which causes vomiting or cardiovascular failure in puppies), kennel cough (a sort of highly infectious dog bronchitis) and inflammation of the liver.
Animal welfare agencies say that dog lovers should avoid purchasing a pet just because they feel sorry for it.