Cruel puppy-smuggling gangs are hiring “swanky” short-term lets such as Airbnbs to trick buyers into thinking the pets have come from clean and loving homes, according to the RSPCA.
The animal-welfare charity claims the tactic is increasingly being used by large, organised criminal gangs when selling dogs from puppy farms, places where numerous dogs are continually bred and often kept in poor conditions.
Airbnb has responded by saying it has not seen “any evidence to support these claims”.
However, RSPCA inspector Kirsty Withnall said: “We have been seeing this for the past few years. Some of the bigger, more organised gangs have done this. It is very devious. It’s not common but we do come across it.
“The criminals tend to use one property per litter, so when that litter has gone, they move onto another property.”
The tactics are helping criminals make huge amounts of money through the smuggling and selling of fashionable breeds such as cavapoos and cockapoodles, says the RSPCA.
This year, the government scrapped a planned new law that would have banned live exports and cracked down on puppy smuggling, to the dismay of animal-welfare campaigners.
Puppy farms in countries such as Romania and Poland breed dogs for sale, often in squalid conditions, and then separate them from their mothers while too young to travel, meaning their immune systems cannot withstand infections, says the RSPCA.
The charity says that pups are then issued with fake vaccination certificates, but often fall ill soon after being sold to unsuspecting UK buyers. It’s even feared that the lack of vaccinations could allow rabies to return to the UK.
The group says that the property owners and letting companies of the short-let homes used are unaware of what is happening.
In 2021, the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals seized eight puppies from a property listed on Airbnb in Glasgow. The owner had unknowingly rented their premises to unscrupulous dealers.
Four of the animals died with health issues such as parvovirus – a fatal dog virus.
After buying from puppy farms, owners can be left heartbroken when their new pet turns out to be dangerously ill or even dies. They can also have to pay huge bills for emergency treatment.
An Airbnb spokesperson said: “We have not seen any evidence to support these claims. Airbnb is committed to animal welfare, and we partner with World Animal Protection to provide expertise and consult on our policies.
“Our dedicated law-enforcement portal allows police forces to contact us with a suspected issue, while residents can use our Neighbourhood Support Line to report urgent concerns.”