PROSPECTIVE dog owners are being warned that many puppies for sale are being kept in "terrible conditions".

Shocking new statistics released today by the Dogs Trust reveal how unsuspecting dog lovers in the North West may have been conned into buying puppies illegally imported into the UK, leaving them heartbroken and almost £500 on average out-of-pocket.

The dog charity polled over 2,000 puppy owners to see how many buyers might have fallen victim to illegal puppy smuggling, where puppies are brought into the UK from central and eastern European countries to sell on for vast profits.

Many described how sellers falsified paperwork, offered discounts for a quick sale or lied about the age and breed of the dog.

Over half (56 percent) of puppy buyers in the region were not allowed to see the puppy more than once while 46 percent were not allowed to see the puppy with their mum – two signs that all might not be what it seems.

A worrying number of buyers who were not allowed to see the puppy at the seller’s home (19 percent) also revealed they were asked to collect their puppy in a carpark or layby – something that no breeder with care for the welfare of the puppies would do.

13 percent of puppy buyers in the region said their seller lied to them about the dog they were buying rising to over a fifth (21 percent) among those who bought via online adverts, lying about things such as the age, breed and whether they had been vaccinated and microchipped. More than one quarter said they had concerns, related to health or behaviour, about their puppy within just a few weeks of buying them.

Worse still some reported terrible conditions where their puppies were “locked in a small cage away from mum”, were so sick they “very nearly died”, or were “scared of their own shadow and very wary of humans”. 13 percent of puppy buyers polled in the region said within their first year their puppy had developed significant health or behaviour problems, such as diarrhoea and anxiety, causing terrible suffering for their beloved pet whilst costing them on average almost £500 in additional vet bills. Some of those people even said their puppy had either died or had to be put to sleep, due to the severity of their condition.

Emma Armitage adopted smuggled puppy, Rottweiler Fil, who was illegally imported from Lithuania. Fil had health problems resulting from not having been vaccinated, he was malnourished, has had stomach and digestive problems and Emma has now discovered that he has hip dysplasia, which will need managing for the rest of his life.

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Ms Armitage said: “Fil is a fantastic dog but sadly because of the horrendous start in life he had he does have health issues. I adopted him from Dogs Trust Manchester so I was fully informed about his background but people tempted to buy online could be being duped into buying poorly pups, some so poorly that they might die within hours of someone taking them home, which is heart breaking.

"I would strongly encourage people to never buy a dog online, not least as you could be unknowingly supporting the horrific puppy smuggling trade.”

For more information about the Don’t Be Dogfished campaign and advice about how to avoid being misled when buying a puppy advertised online, search ‘Dogfished’ or visit www.dogstrust.org.uk/dogfished.