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Is My Rescue A 'Red Flag'?

Updated: Jun 23, 2023

Buying, adopting, importing or rescuing dogs (or any pet) can be a minefield. There are many things to consider so that we make sure we are buying or adopting healthy pets, while also ensuring we don't inadvertently support any unethical breeding practices, unscrupulous rescues or back yard breeders.

Veterinary Voices UK and Cat the Vet have teamed up to highlight some 'red flags' to watch out for and why...

How many puppies are available?

You may find be in search of a puppy and have a look on the internet for the breed you want. A website pops up with a litter of puppies locally, perfect! You go onto the website to find not just one litter but loads of litters! Cute puppies of every age, shape, breed and all adorable! Sounds like a dream, right?

This is a RED FLAG!

Any breeding establishment that is able to offer many different litters of puppies and different ages must have a large number of breeding bitches. This is unlikely to be a home bred puppy and more likely a commercial outfit. A puppy farm is where multiple dogs are continually bred, and the puppies sold. Dog breeding kennels should have a breeding license and you should be able to find out how many breeding females are registered under this; many operate without this. Backyard breeders or puppy farms often don't raise dogs in an ideal environment. They are often kept in poor conditions; the adult dogs and puppies may not receive adequate veterinary care or attention and they are unlikely to be raised in an environment that supports a happy and healthy dog - leading to future health or behavioural issues.

They are very different to reputable breeders, usually a reputable breeder will only breed one or two different dogs at any one time and should put the health of their puppies and their mothers above a quick profit. Although there are breeders who own a number of breeding bitches and look after them exceptionally well, any website that can offer a large number of puppies should be viewed with caution.

Are they offering to drop off?

Life if hectic, and the breeder of your new rescue/puppy has offered to drop off the dog at your home OR meet you halfway... STOP. This is a RED FLAG!

Any breeder should want you to meet their puppy before picking them up and in their own environment. They will be open and transparent about where their puppies have been living and growing up. In fact, they should be proud to show you the set up they raise their puppies in. Seeing positive interactions between mum and puppies is also really important, this can only be achieved by visiting prior to collection.

It may be tempting, but you should never pick up your new puppy by meeting midway, nor getting it dropped off at your house without having been to the place they were born and viewing them in that environment with their mum. This way, backyard breeders or puppy farms can hide any number of sins as you will not have seen the state of the mum or the environment which your new bundle of joy has been raised in.

Are they not overly worried about your experience?

When you decide to get a pet, you may think that it is only you that will be asking all the questions to the rescue or breeder. But this often isn't the case!

A breeder or rescue that cares about the whereabouts of their animals will be equally as keen to ask you about your home and experience, to ensure you are the right match for the breed or dog.

Many imports are coming across with very challenging behavioural needs, many owners are unprepared for dealing with dogs that are traumatised and not used to living in a home environment. These can stem from negative experiences at the hands of humans or in shelters and it is also important to realise street dogs have evolved to be extremely independent characters and often wary of humans, so they don’t always settle easily into home environments.

Equally, many rescues are currently tackling 'lockdown' puppies who are also displaying challenging behavioural issues. The rescue or breeder of your pet should always be interested in your experience as an owner and ensure they are not matching you up to a animal that doesn't sure your needs, family, lifestyle or expertise.

These issues are not always insurmountable, but it does mean that many adopters will require on-going support from both the rescue and from professional trainers and behaviourists. If your chosen organisation cannot guarantee to provide help, and a ‘no questions asked’ return policy, then this is a red flag.

Do they tell you they will send vaccine information at a later date?

When you pick up your new dog, you need to be able to see their health care and vaccine history there and then.

Key points are to always presume they have received NO vaccinations unless you have official proof of receiving them. You need a vaccine certificate / card signed by a UK Veterinary Surgeon. Remember that ALL dogs should be microchipped by the breeder in the UK, therefore a vaccine record should be easily matched to your puppy's unique microchip number.

It is a red flag if a rescue or breeder claims they are vaccinated but will not show you any evidence to prove that. The best advice is to start vaccinations again, as if they have never had one if you or your new veterinary practice are not provided with any official vaccine paperwork, or your new practice thinks it looks forged!

Are they thoroughly health testing foreign imports?

If your chosen rescue dog is coming into the country from abroad, it is vital they have been tested for an extensive list of diseases and that some of those tests are repeated after they have been in the country for around 6 months.

Although there are some conditions that are more common in some areas and less common in others, the very best rescue organisations will test their dogs for all of them. Both for the adoptee's peace of mind and because movement of dogs over the continent is becoming more common and so, especially for street animals, their country of origin cannot always be assumed.

All rescue dogs should be tested for; Leishmania, Heartworm, Ehrlichia Canis, Anaplasma, Hepatozoon Canis, Babesia and Brucella Canis. Leishmania and Heartworm testing should be repeated after 6 months if the original test was negative.

These tests should be run at a reputable laboratory and the rescue should share with you the original lab report. If they are unable to do this, it is advisable to request these tests are re-run at a UK based facility. As afore mentioned, if your pet had a negative test immediately before arrival, some tests would need to be repeated in the UK as the test may give a 'false negative' if the animal has only just been exposed to the disease.

Have you checked that the paperwork is legit?

All imported foreign dogs should come with official importation paperwork, a pet passport and a full veterinary history, including comprehensive health testing results.

All the paperwork should be individual to the dog and contain their details, including their microchip number.

If all a rescue can provide for you is a pet passport, then this is a huge red flag.

They are importing cropped eared puppies

The RSPCA has also recently reported a 620% rise in reports of dogs found to have had their ears cropped, covering from 2015 to 2020. Ear cropping is a painful process where a dog’s outer ears are surgically altered or removed altogether to make them look more aggressive. The surgical procedure, which has been illegal in this country since 2006, can hinder their ability to communicate with other dogs and their owners.

The majority of these dogs are suspected to have undergone the procedure overseas, however due to demand we are now seeing reports of illegal cropping in the UK too, under the new rules set out in the consultation launched today cropped dogs from abroad would be banned from entering the country.

Sadly, dogs can experience behavioural, psychological and physiological effects from this. They are unable to express natural body language, they can experience aversion to their ears and face being touched and surgery sites can become infected.

Any rescue or breeder importing high numbers of cropped eared dogs into the UK, where the procedure is ILLEGAL, is a massive RED FLAG!


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