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The Animal Welfare (Import of Dogs, Cats and Ferrets) Bill is a Private Member’s Bill introduced into Parliament by Selaine Saxby (Con). The Bill is due for its second reading on 15 March 2024. The government supports the Bill and has published explanatory notes.

The Bill includes measures to allow the four parts of the UK to regulate to raise the minimum age for imported dogs and cats to six months, and ban the import of dogs and cats that are more than 42 days pregnant or mutilated. Mutilation means, for example, dogs which have had their ears cropped or tail docked, and cats which have been declawed.

The Bill will also amend for England, Scotland and Wales, EU rules assimilated into UK law to limit to five the number of cats and dogs imported per motor vehicle, or three per foot passenger. 

What the Bill would change

Currently, the lower age limit to import a dog or cat is 15 weeks. Pregnant dogs and cats may be imported up to the last 10% of their pregnancy. Up to five dogs or cats per person can be imported and the owner can authorise someone else to travel with the animals.

In 2021-22, the government included provisions in the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill to limit the number of dogs, cats or ferrets that can be moved on a non-commercial basis and to set restrictions on the condition of animals that can be brought into the country. The Bill was carried over into the 2022-23 parliamentary session but the government announced on 25 May 2023 that the Bill would not proceed further in its current form.  The government said that rather than progress one overarching animal welfare bill it would instead introduce separate legislation on elements of the Bill.

The Animal Welfare (Import of Dogs, Cats and Ferrets) Bill takes forward the proposed provisions on animal imports. It would enable the national authorities in each part of the UK to make regulations to impose conditions on the import of dogs, cats and ferrets, in the interests of their welfare.

Dogs, cats and ferrets can enter the United Kingdom in one of two ways: as non-commercial pet travel movements or as commercial imports.  More stringent requirements apply to commercial imports than to non-commercial movements. The government has said that evidence has shown that commercial movements are frequently being disguised as non-commercial movements to avoid meeting these more stringent requirements.

Reaction to the Bill

Stakeholders have welcomed the proposals. Selaine Saxby’s announcement of the Bill quoted Owen Sharp, Chief Executive of Dogs Trust: 

We are delighted that Selaine has committed to taking forward a Bill to finally put an end to the cruel Puppy Smuggling trade. We have been campaigning for over 10 years to end the suffering of countless numbers of dogs caught up in this abhorrent trade, and we hope this marks a real step forward for dog welfare in the UK.

It also quoted David Bowles, head of public affairs at the RSPCA:

The RSPCA is delighted that Selaine Saxby MP is bringing forward a Bill that will crackdown on puppy smuggling, which is huge news for dog welfare.

Currently, there is little protection around the import of pregnant dogs, dogs with cropped ears can still be imported even though it is illegal in the UK and the age for puppies needs to be increased to six months to improve their welfare. All these measures would help crack down on the illegal, well organised and cruel puppy trade. Mums and puppies are still forced to travel long distances and sold to unsuspecting members of the public who often have to deal with poorly puppies and dogs with behavioural issues.

The RSPCA has campaigned for a long time to have a policy on puppy smuggling revived and this Bill gives us renewed hope that puppy smuggling can be ended once and for all.

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