Italian police have uncovered a puppy trafficking ring which involved vets allegedly docking their ears and tails to make them more attractive to foreign buyers.
Police in Ancona are investigating 40 people, among them 29 dog breeders and 11 vets, on charges of animal abuse, trafficking of puppies and the unlawful practice of a profession.
The investigation has so far revealed 52 cases of the illegal docking of ears and tails performed on pit bull terriers and Corsican and Dogo Argentino breeds between 2017 and 2019.
The accused breeders and vets allegedly produced fake veterinary certificates for the docking and other documents that allowed puppies to either be imported or exported.
Police said the vets earned about €200 (£170) per dog to dock their ears and tails, “which gave the dogs a more aggressive look … and made them more attractive to foreign buyers” in countries where docking is illegal.
Those allegedly involved in the ring live in Ancona and Macerata, provinces in the central Marche region, as well as Cosenza in Calabria and Bari in Puglia. The animals were imported to or exported from Italy, with the US being a prime market on either end.
The coronavirus pandemic has helped fuel the puppy trafficking business, which is worth more than €300m in Italy, according to Coldiretti, the country’s largest farmers’ association.
More than 3.5 million Italians bought puppies that had been illegally imported and sold via the black market in order to “overcome the stress of lockdowns and restrictions”, the association said in a statement on Thursday.
“Puppies that arrive through illegal trafficking are usually just a few weeks old,” the statement said. “They are very often stuffed with drugs to make them appear healthy … and are crammed into containers before travelling long distances by truck.”