Cross-border trade of pets continues despite COVID-19
Due to lack of proper data on transport of pets it is virtually impossible to identify the exact impact of the restrictions on the movement of pets in the recent months. One thing is certain though, despite the COVID-19 restrictions, the illegal pet trade is able to adapt rapidly, and puppies and kittens continue to be moved from breeding centres in Romania, Hungary and Serbia, as well as Russia to the buying countries of Belgium, Germany, the UK and the Netherlands.
Transport of pets
The subject of illegal pet trade and issues related to transport are closely interlinked. With lack of clear species-specific rules for transport of cats and dogs across Europe and the existing flaws of the EU Pet Passport Scheme, it is extremely easy to move kittens and puppies illegally. As a result of limited inspections, falsified documents and an increase of use of private cars for the purpose of transporting animals, the illegal transport of pets remains unnoticed. The revision of Regulation 1/2005 should introduce clear species-specific requirements that must be subsequently enforced by the competent authorities, while the EU should fund enforcement projects under the European Regional Development Fund and Internal Security Fund based on the Biocrime model.
The recent COVID-19 outbreak raises the question of the fate of puppies and kittens from the pet trade due to the lockdown and quarantine restrictions imposed on people. Young animals who are part of the pet trade or who are in breeding facilities or pet shops may face euthanasia if some breeders/pet shops do not wish to keep hold of them during lockdown.
Bearing in mind that annually about 8 million puppies are needed to satisfy the European demand and the fact that these are mostly supplied in two waves: spring and autumn, there is a legitimate concern that the welfare of these animals has been and will be again compromised. In the framework of implementation of the Animal Health Law and subsequent Delegated Act as regards rules for establishments, the Member States should issue a clear guidance to breeders and pet shops not to euthanise animals and to relinquish to shelters if necessary, providing adequate contribution to cover costs.
Maintained control over the breeding facilities
Any change to operating procedures of competent authorities related to inspections and licensing, where applicable, should not result in compromising pet welfare. Even in case when only essential businesses and services are allowed to operate, the competent authorities should still perform inspections to ensure that the breeding facilities will not be operating without adequate monitoring and control.
Enhanced monitoring of online sale
This year the spring purchase season coincided with COVID-19 restrictions. The most challenging of which for the illegal pet sellers is the requirement that non-essential journeys, defined in some countries as buying or selling pets, cannot be undertaken. Illegal traders reacted fast by moving sales from open internet pages to closed Facebook sites. It is highly likely that the same will happen during the autumn purchase season. In order to ensure proper monitoring of online sale the Digital Services Act should set up clear rules on the responsibilities of online platforms and social media to prevent, fight and remove illegal goods and content, including pets from illegal sources. The European Commission should also build on the recommendations for online platforms of the Voluntary Initiative Group on the Health and Welfare of Pets in Trade of the EU Platform on Animal Welfare.
Protecting the European consumers from pet fraud
There has been a significant increase in prices of puppies across Europe. Due to low penalties for illegal trade of pets, the driven up prices give a high incentive to fraudsters. This results in a number of scams where people are paying in a deposit for a pet offered online and then the contact with the online seller breaks off. The European Commission should allocate funding to educate European consumers on the dangers of the illegal puppy trade and provide training to competent authorities on the illegal pet trade in the framework of collaboration between national authorities and online platforms. In addition to that online platforms should feature an effective pop-up for consumers which raises awareness about the risks and importance of only purchasing pets that are identified and registered by authorised breeders/sellers who comply with the requirements and provide all necessary information on their identity.