The puppy factories

Litters: The animals are taken away from their mothers within a few days of being born.
Litters: The animals are taken away from their mothers within a few days of being born. / EFE
  • Thousands of pregnant dogs give birth in horrific conditions and their unvaccinated puppies are instantly taken away from them to be sold in Spain for the festive period

Christmas is over and tomorrow children in Spain will be opening presents for Three Kings' Day. During the festive period, whether celebrating Christmas or Three Kings' Day, it is highly probable that numerous lucky children will excitedly open a box to discover, with absolute joy, the unmistakable stuffed-toy face of an adorable puppy. A puppy that will die soon.

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In horrendous conditions, thousands of pregnant dogs are piled together, waiting to give birth. They do this in the dark, in minute, unhygienic cages, with a future of getting pregnant over and over again until they are no longer able to, and then they will be killed. They do not even get the chance to see their litters, which are snatched away from them instantly. The puppies are hauled into vans and set out on a long journey towards the loving hands of a child, ecstatic about their present. Many die on the journey, others afterwards. Only the luckiest among them survive.

Matilde Cubillo remembers a scene around Christmas, in front of a pet shop in Pinto, a town near Madrid. “There were so many people queuing up in the street. A van arrived full of puppies and they started unloading them to be sold without quarantine or anything,” she says. Cubillo is president of Justicia Animal, an organisation which has fought against dog trafficking for over 15 years. The illegal trade generates a lot of money and involves “real mobs”. At Christmas, the business booms.

They come from Eastern Europe, from dog factories in Slovenia, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia. “90 per cent of the stock in Spanish pet shops is from elsewhere. In almost every single store there are puppies from these countries,” says Cubillo, whose association collaborates with the Guardia Civil's nature protection unit in finding the trafficking in Madrid. “We're not talking about huge factories,” she explains. “The people usually breed the dogs at home, in garages or squalid places where the female dogs give birth again and again in terrible conditions, and then they sell them to criminal markets.”

Puppies begin their journeys when they are just a few days old. This goes against EU regulations, which state that dogs cannot be transported until they are at least three months old, as that is the age at which a dog will have received its rabies vaccinations.

This important detail does not stop the criminals from filling their vans with animals of under 20 days old. They have fake papers claiming that they are older and healthier than they really are.

The journeys usually last three days. Unvaccinated, often ill from canine distemper or parvovirus, parasite-ridden, the puppies are exhausted when they arrive where they are going to be sold. “In Spain there are big shops which practise this trade. A puppy is sold for 70 euros and then they are sold to other shops or individuals. A proper breeder could get 900 euros for Yorkshire Terriers while the ones that come from Eastern Europe could only cost 400. The profit margin is important,” says Matilde Cubillo.

In Europe only 45 per cent of commercial transportation of dogs is legally registered. According to a study by the European Union, 42 per cent of the dog trade and 22 per cent of the cat trade is illegal. One of the leading countries for this is Spain.

The story of Snoopy

Snoopy was one of those illegally transported puppies. He was a Bichon Maltese bought by Mónica as a birthday present for her daughter. “I searched online and contacted a breeder in Pinto”. They told her all of the terms and after paying 450 euros, the four-month-old puppy was sent to her home in Elgiobar (Gipuzkoa) via a courier service. He came with a one-page guarantee with the name of the pet shop at the top which outlined conditions which looked strange from the outset. “It said that if we gave the dog different food it was no longer covered under the guarantee, and that if we had any problems we had to return it to a vet in Madrid who had an arrangement with the seller,” she explained.

Snoopy arrived with a lot of problems. “They brought him to me with no water and with very little food, he was dehydrated, he had diarrhoea and was vomiting, but they told me that this was normal because of the journey and nerves,” Mónica remembers. The dog was also infested with parasites, and as she could check the owner from the documents, she worked out that he came from Slovenia and not from a Madrid breeder.

Mónica phoned the shop and they told her that if the puppy was ill she could return it and they would send her another one. “I didn't do this because I knew that it would die on the journey, we were talking about a living thing, not an electrical appliance. Despite every effort to save him, Snoopy only survived for five days. “We got him on a Tuesday and he died on the Saturday,” Mónica complains. The autopsy revealed that Snoopy was only about six to eight weeks old. The dog had not been vaccinated and the microchip was not even registered.

This story is told thousands of times by people who have bought cheap puppies without knowing where they come from. “They arrive from the east, and all the locals know where they come from, the problem is that it is legal,” says Encarnación Meruelo, president of Ascelcre, a legal association promoting responsible pet care. “On a private level you can transport five dogs, but if you do it commercially you can take large numbers of them to sell as if they're livestock. However to do that you have to follow several rules, which is what these breeders are not doing.” It is much easier to sell an adorable puppy than an older animal, although this means bringing them in newborn and without their rabies vaccinations.

However, not all of the dubious transportation comes from distant countries. Meruelo maintains that “95 per cent of the dog trade in Spain is illegal,” and she is sure that a large percentage of the business is shared out among individual breeders who create competition for the professionals. “I saw someone in Bilbao who had 30 Yorkshire Terriers in their kitchen. They were locked into packed cages, one on top of the other, with several in each cage. Each one was being sold for 800 euros.”

This type of breeding of dogs is not illegal but the selling of them is, yet it is so difficult to fight against this market, especially with the Internet. “Here is where you find problems, not in the shops,” stresses Josep Arnas, general secretary of the Asociación del Sector del Animal de Compañía (ASAC). “The last time that I did an online search I found 248,000 adverts for people selling dogs in Spain,” he says, adding that “they are pseudo- professional breeders, who don't follow regulations and don't have legitimate documentation, selling pets at a lower price”.

Josep Arnas denies that 90 per cent of the puppies sold in pet shops come from Eastern European countries. “This is completely untrue,” he insists. “There are so many regulations but these aren't followed by every store, there are shops which have been shut down by the association for dubious trade”. In his opinion, since the trafficking has become illegal, it has massively decreased and the enemy is “the individual breeder who sells pets online and keeps them in terrible conditions”.

“Hiding behind the illusion of love for pets, there is a large sum of money,” says Encarnación Meruelo. “Puppies are so cute, but you have to know where they come from,” states Matilde Cubillo. It's a business that plays upon the attraction of a young puppy playing in the window of a pet shop. Cubillo adds that “they inject them with vitamins so that they are lively when people come to buy them. The next day they get sick”.


Puppies are born in dog factories in countries like Slovenia, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia. The female dogs get pregnant over and over again and they give birth in unhygienic, unsafe conditions until they are unable to anymore. The puppies are taken away from them immediately, to be crammed into vans and driven to Spain. The transport of puppies younger than three months is banned, but the mafias ignore this rule. Usually the puppies are younger than 20 days old and they travel without any vaccinations despite their adoption papers saying that they have received all of the necessary medical treatments.

In Europe this is the percentage of dog transportation which is legally registered. According to a study by the European Union, 42% of the trade of these animals and 22% of the trade of cats is illegal. In 2015 there were 7,438,689 dogs registered in Spain. In 2014, this sector turned over 848 million euros.

The puppies arrive at their destination after a long journey, riddled with parasites and illness like canine distemper and parvovirus. Many of them die a few days after being sold for a low price by the mafias who act as tradesmen. They receive and distribute the pets which have arrived in Spain from Eastern Europe.

euros is the average price for a puppy which has been brought in illegally from the countries in the east. The pet traffickers sell them for around 70 euros to big stores which act like trade markets and they distribute the animals to shops across Spain and then they are sold to individuals.