Thinking of buying a puppy in Europe? A quick Google search will bring up countless ads promising the fluffball of your dreams. You can even have a dog delivered straight to your door.

But a cross-border investigation into Europe’s booming puppy business reveals a stark reality: up to 80 percent of dogs advertised online are part of an underground trade run by organised criminals.

This is a story of fake breeders, bogus pet passports and international smuggling — all at a colossal scale. It is also a tale of coercion, exploitation and severe health risks.

In the latest edition of the IJ4EU Podcast, freelance journalists Jon Erik West and Annick Hus give exclusive details on an ongoing investigation into the movement of millions of puppies across Europe.

They find that criminal gangs force many people to pose as families going on holiday with their pets when they are in fact tasked with smuggling unvaccinated puppies across borders.

After Russia invaded Ukraine, criminals even sought to cash in on people’s sympathies by “Ukrainising” puppies. This meant transporting dogs born anywhere in Europe all the way to Ukraine, just so they could get a Ukrainian pet passport, and then transporting them back to buyers in Western Europe who were eager to rescue a “Ukrainian pet”.

The health risks associated with illegally transporting vast numbers of puppies in confined spaces range from rampant rates of parvovirus, which is deadly to dogs, to airborne transmission of rabies, which is deadly to both dogs and humans.

This podcast gives the inside scoop on an upcoming feature-length investigative documentary, “The Real Puppy Trade”. The project was supported by the IJ4EU fund for cross-border investigative journalism.

Listen on:


Host: Timothy Large, director of independent media programmes at the International Press Institute

Guests: Jon Erik West and Annick Hus

Editing and production: Timothy Large

Graphics: Milica Miletić