Transport of puppies across European borders leaves lasting emotional scars

There have never been so many dogs in Europe. Many of them come from mass breeders in Central and Eastern Europe, are bought online and have travelled for hours or days on commercial transport. It’s a journey that leaves lasting emotional scars, as journalists at Apache magazine have discovered.

In 2022, Europe was home to more than 104 million dogs, of which almost 67 million were in EU countries. Although the EU defines animals as living beings with intrinsic value and feelings, they are traded as commodities.

A few clicks away

Buying a dog has become like buying a book or an outfit. All it takes is a few clicks to buy it from a seller whose true identity and whereabouts you may not know. In some cases, the seller will have the dog “in stock”. In other cases, the animal is transported across EU borders and delivered to the buyer’s door.

The journey to its new home can take hours or even days, as the dog travels from the breeder to a collection centre where all the dogs are gathered to be sent to the retailer or buyer in Western Europe. This journey is not only physically exhausting but also emotionally draining.

Sentient beings

Although Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty recognises animals as sentient beings, current legislation focuses almost exclusively on the biological aspects of animal welfare. Yet a growing body of scientific research extends the physical dimension of dog welfare to include emotions and behaviour, as Joni Delanoeije, a researcher in human-animal interaction and dog behaviour at KU Leuven, points out.

“Many studies emphasise that puppies from mass breeding facilities have difficulty adapting to a family situation,” says Delanoeije. “These young dogs carry with them a blueprint that will cause them lifelong stress. You could compare it to post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Negative effects

It’s not only the breeding conditions that have a lasting effect on the dogs. Road transport also has both short and long-term negative impacts on their welfare. “Dogs, like humans, experience stress in certain situations,” says Outi Vainio, professor emeritus of veterinary pharmacology at the University of Helsinki. “There’s no doubt this is also the case during commercial transport.”

During such journeys, stress hormones are released, and the animal undergoes the familiar fight-or-flight response, he explains. “Long periods of stress cause permanent damage during transport across EU borders. These practices indicate that the welfare of these animals is still not sufficiently taken into account.”

To make the cross-border dog trade more transparent, the European Commission is reviewing legislation on the commercial transport of dogs. It remains to be seen whether they can deliver before the legislation is finalised and whether the emotional impact of such journeys will be considered.