Dog rescue organisations are appealing for Eurotunnel to clarify new rules clamping down on the rising numbers of animals being brought into the UK.
Rescue organisations said dogs due to be rehomed could suffer as a result of the decision to cut the number of animals allowed to travel in each vehicle from 20 to five, drastically increasing the costs for rescue operations.
But Eurotunnel said the “sheer volume” of dogs had become untenable and that the decision followed increasing concern over the welfare of dogs arriving at its Calais terminal.
An estimated 250,000 dogs travel into the UK via the Channel tunnel each year.
The company did not specifically mention illegal puppy smuggling, but animal welfare charities have said rocketing prices for puppies are fuelling cross-border smuggling.
With the UK in its second nationwide lockdown and Christmas approaching, demand is expected to rise still further.
“We have real concerns about puppies and dogs who are being brought into the country in large numbers to be sold on to buyers, and have found that many come in with serious health and welfare problems,” said the RSPCA after the Eurotunnel decision.
Eurotunnel has since clarified that registered charities and businesses will be exempt from the limit, after a petition to reverse the decision gained more than 40,000 signatures over the weekend.
But many rescue groups remain concerned they may not qualify for the exemption. Emma Billingdon of Dogs 4 Rescue, a two-person team based in Manchester, said her organisation, like many similar ones, is registered as a community interest company, which means it does not meet the “registered charity” qualification.
Registering as a charity would take time, Billingdon said. Dogs 4 Rescue has been desperately trying to navigate the new rules but has not been able to book transport for rescues since the policy change, meaning dogs cannot be rehomed as planned. The team’s partners in Europe are unable to take more dogs off the streets as their shelters are full, she said.
“What about all the dogs in the meantime? It’s going to be -15C [5F] there [in Bulgaria] next week, the weaker ones will perish,” Billingdon said.
She argued that an age limit on dogs travelling into the UK would be a more effective way to crack down on smuggling while still allowing rescue dogs into the UK.
“Everyone wants a 12-week-old puppy, which is why they smuggle them in so young.”
The RSPCA supports an age restriction approach and said it would like to see the minimum age increased to 24 weeks.
Dogs Trust said puppy farms might adapt to work around the new rule. “While Eurotunnel’s policy could have a positive impact on the trade in principle, we know how adaptable puppy smugglers can be, given the profits that can be made,” said deputy veterinary director Runa Hanaghan.
Katrina Wright, a trustee of Freedom Angels Animal Rescue (Faar), said it was not just pedigreed dogs brought to the UK at risk from people hoping to cash in on the craze. “We’ve seen rescue dogs brought into the UK that people have made adoption donations for of about GBP300-GBP400 being resold on Gumtree for over GBP1,000,” she said.
Wright questioned whether animal welfare concerns were the basis of Eurotunel’s policy change, and said she was told it was a “commercial decision” to save on staffing costs by a Eurotunnel staff member she spoke to the day it was introduced.
But Eurotunnel denied the decision was financially motivated and said it understood rescue groups’ concerns. “There was a justifiable argument from charities who said they can’t cover the costs of splitting into smaller vehicles of five, but we never intended to shut those people out,” said John Keefe, Eurotunnel’s director of public affairs.
“We fully support the approved, registered charities who are doing great work rescuing and rehoming animals under good animals welfare conditions.
“Staff at our pet reception centre are animal lovers. And they’re all concerned about the welfare of the animals. The authorities do not have sufficient resources to police this and it’s not our job to do so, so we’ve had to take what steps we can ourselves.”
The Department for Environment, Food and Regional affairs, under whose remit any such policing would fall, confirmed this is a commercial decision for Eurotunnel.