WITH his cute button nose and fluffy teddy bear appearance, Love Island stars Tommy Fury and Molly-Mae Hague couldn't help but fall head-over-heels when welcoming their new puppy earlier this month.
But tragically just six days later, the couple were left "heartbroken and shocked" when the imported Pomeranian pup – a birthday present for Molly named Mr Chai – tragically died.
The pup's death caused Love Island fans to start a petition to end the controversial trade of getting dogs shipped in from Russia, where puppies are often farmed in horrendous conditions then sold for thousands and shipped to Britain.
Speaking to The Sun Online, RSPCA Chief Inspector Ian Briggs said: “It is heartbreaking for any owner to lose a beloved pet. We always urge any prospective owners to do their research, see the puppy with its mother and not to buy an imported puppy.
“Buying an imported pup leaves new owners open to the very real risk they are supporting cruel puppy farming, with the parents kept in awful conditions, used as breeding machines with sick and dying pups – and there is no real way of checking."
While there's no evidence Mr Chai – who was purchased from a third party breeder – came from a puppy farm, Molly has since admitted she wouldn't opt to buy a pet from overseas again, saying: "If we had the time again we would have got a dog from the UK or got a rescue dog from the UK."
Here, The Sun Online investigates the problems with buying and importing overseas pets, and takes a closer look at why it increases the risk of buying an animal that has been cruelly farmed.
Celebs offered free puppies 'like they're a pair of shoes'
Mr Chai was shipped into the UK by a puppy company who have denied any wrongdoing.
But several other former Love Island stars who've purchased dogs from the company have said following Molly and Tommy's announcement, they wouldn't use her again.
Laura Anderson, 29 – didn't have any issues with her puppy but has since said she wouldn't recommend buying from the breeder.
Taking to Instagram Olivia Attwood, 26, said: "Since I came out of Love Island I've literally had breeders like that messaging me, offering me free dogs, like they're a pair of shoes of something. It's just horrendous.
"There is no care in that kind of breeding."
Olivia Buckland also spoke out, making it clear that she wasn't slamming Molly, but saying: "Third party breeders don't have a clue where they're getting their dogs from, I don't care what b****** they sprangle you they are getting a puppy from another country, they are not seeing the mum, they're not seeing the dad, even sending a young puppy by plane from places like Russia is ridiculous."
'To lose a dog like that is gut-wrenching'
Sadly, Molly's situation is far from rare, and is a tragedy restaurant manager Sarah Brown*, 30, from Chichester, knows only too well.
She bought an eight-week-old border collie puppy called Evie last Christmas, only to have to make the agonising choice to have her put down just three days later.
While Evie's full background and whether she was imported is unknown, Sarah believes Evie came from a puppy farm, which is why she was so poorly.
Sarah tells Sun Online: "I know exactly how attached Molly would have been to that puppy even after a few days, and it's a horrible thing to have to go through…It's absolutely gut-wrenching.
"I found Evie on a website, and there were some red flags when we arrived to see her, but the puppies seemed fine and we knew that we could give her a better life away from the environment she was in.
"We took her home that day, but by the next day we had to rush her to the emergency vet because she was sick and lethargic.
"Her condition deteriorated and she was diagnosed with parvovirus. We made the horrible decision to have her put down just two days later – she was in pain and we didn't want her to go through that.
"It was so horrendous, and I also felt angry too – it was so reckless. Someone was just selling puppies as a money making scheme, but actually you're dealing with a living animal, that has feelings."
Immeasurable misery and poorly trafficked pups
While the UK government have made various attempts to crack down on petfishing and puppy farming, it is clearly still a problem.
A previous Sun investigation revealed an estimated 200 poorly puppies are trafficked into the UK by Eastern European gangs every day, and many customers are unaware they've bought from an unregistered breeder.
RSPCA Chief Inspector Ian Briggs says: "Sadly, a rising demand in puppies means that responsible, reputable breeders who pride themselves on high levels of animal welfare cannot meet demand and we’re seeing more and more puppies being illegally smuggled into the country from abroad or being bred on puppy farms here at home.
“The RSPCA has investigated the illegal puppy trade from Europe and it is clear that the trade is worth many hundreds of millions of pounds annually, hides immeasurable misery in the breeding, transport and selling of these puppies and so is connected with organised criminal elements which makes its detection difficult.
“We believe more than 80,000 puppies a year could be coming into the country from places such as Ireland, Romania and Hungary.
“Travelling long distances as a young pup is stressful and a real welfare issue. There are also risks of serious disease and future behaviour problems which can leave owners distraught. But it is not just abroad, there is always a risk of falling victim to poor breeders and unscrupulous puppy farms in this country too."
'You know nothing about their health or welfare'
Sadly, vets report regularly seeing imported puppies with severe health problems, including parvovirus – a potentially fatal condition which sees dogs suffer severe vomiting and diarrhoea, often associated with farmed puppies.
Zoe Costigan, vet at pet well-being specialist firm ITCHpet.com, says: “A few weeks ago, a small bichon frise puppy came in with horrendous sickness and diarrhoea, the owners had met the vendors in a car park and the puppy had come form Romania.
"Obviously it was not possible to meet the parents although they had seen a photograph of the mother dog – or so they thought. "Unfortunately despite extensive medical treatment and supportive care, the puppy passed away of suspected parvovirus.
“I also recently had a very nervous six-month-old Hungarian Visla came to see me, from Serbia.
“[She had] a serious unsuspected heart problem, it was absolutely heart-breaking for the owners because the only answer was to put the poor pup down. When buying these animals, you know nothing about the health, welfare or temperament of the parent stock.
"This type of situation is unfortunately not uncommon.”
Inbreeding, health problems and behavioural issues
While Molly-Mae and Tommy have since clarified it was pre-existing health conditions, not the journey, that was responsible for the pup's unfortunate death, this has done little to quell the controversy surrounding the decision to import their puppy.
This is because while there's no indication Mr Chai was bred in cruel conditions, it is a common-known fact that puppy farmed pets often display a range of health conditions.
Adam Amhama, Managing Partner at Paws in Work, says: "In the worst-case scenario, the conditions on a puppy farm could mean tens or hundreds of breeding bitches in squalid conditions with little access to food, water, natural light, or social interaction.
"In essence, the dogs are seen as a commodity and so there is no importance placed on their health or happiness.
"Puppies born in these conditions are more likely to have health conditions due to poor hygiene standards, inbreeding, sick or unhealthy mothers; and the likelihood of being unvaccinated or untreated for fleas and worms. The puppies can also develop extreme behavioural issues that stem from improper socialisation and countless negative experiences from the moment they are born.
"The issue is exacerbated with overseas puppy farms, as the cost of running these farms is significantly lower than in the UK and there is less regulation of dog breeding in general.
"Seeing the puppy in the home it was born and with the mother is impossible to do unless buyers travel to the country which the pup is from. FaceTime or video footage are not suitable replacements for seeing the puppy and mother in person."
Experts also warn it is vital to do your research even if getting a puppy in the UK, as puppy farming is still commonplace and breeders should be Kennel Club approved.
Charities in the UK have been overwhelmed recently with requests to adopt the last couple of months, with Dogs Trust re-homing 25 per cent more pups than this time last year.
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