Spain Arrests 13 Suspects of Illegal Pet Trade, 400+ Pets Rescued

Spanish authorities have detained 13 suspected members of a criminal network engaged in illegal animal trade, with a focus on puppies and kittens. Conditions for the animals, about 400 of them, were distressing and led to several deaths.

Spain Pet TraffickingSpanish police finds 400 puppies and kittens in poor conditions. (Photo: Ministerio del Interio/screenshot, License)The Interior Ministry revealed on Wednesday that the illicit network had roots in Madrid, Barcelona, Andorra, and Eastern European countries, from which some animals originated.

The suspects face charges of animal abuse, labor exploitation, fraud, forgery, and money laundering. They allegedly funneled substantial profits, primarily through intermediaries in Spain, Andorra, and Dubai, to conceal their unlawfully gained wealth.

The investigation began in late 2020 when the Animal Protection Office of the Madrid City Council received multiple complaints about animal health concerns at a downtown establishment.

Inspectors uncovered 33 ailing dogs and evidence of abuse and neglect at the location. Further investigations revealed a complex criminal network with clear divisions of responsibility. Several associated businesses were identified, operating differently but all involved in the illicit animal trade.

Spanish police confirmed the illegal activities spanned various establishments in Madrid, Catalonia, and Andorra. The organization imported animals from Eastern European countries, bred them in illegal facilities, and promoted them through social networks.

Health cards and travel passports for these animals were manipulated, indicating systemic falsification of records. These animals endured grueling transport in cramped and poorly ventilated vehicles over long distances, often exceeding 2,000 kilometers, with inadequate sanitation and care. Consequently, infectious diseases were rampant, leading to high mortality rates.

The animals, regardless of their health, were intended for sale, and their well-being was routinely disregarded, often leading to illness shortly after purchase.

The operation implicated clinics and breeding centers, as well as a veterinarian responsible for document falsification, certifying the animals as healthy.

According to the European Commission, puppies from outside the EU or specific EU Member States are available at lower prices, around 30-50 euros, creating opportunities for traders to resell them to pet shops at a 10-fold markup or to buyers at prices exceeding 1,000 euros.

One case, reported by the nonprofit organization Eurogroup for Animals, involved a puppy smuggler in the U.K. who was transporting both drugs valued at 10,000 pounds (US$12,150.44) and puppies worth 15,000 pounds ($18,227.55) in the same vehicle.

"Not only were the puppies more valuable to the smuggler, the risk of getting caught was lower, and even when apprehended, the sentences were less severe and often non-custodial, in contrast to the penalties for drug smuggling," the report stated.

Many countries impose lighter penalties for puppy trafficking compared to drug smuggling, often resulting in non-custodial sentences.