A Panorama investigation discovered that drug gang bosses have turned to “designer bulldog” breeding to earn thousands of pounds per pet.
The BBC programme’s eight-month investigation discovered that criminals were breeding thousands of dogs with extreme and unhealthy characteristics, such as excessive skin folds or large, muscular frames.
The program discovered that dealer networks were taking advantage of the growing demand for dogs with unusual characteristics, such as massive frames or disproportionately short legs. In a painful and illegal practice known as “ear cropping,” the tops of the dogs’ ears are also removed.
Some of the animals are selling for over ten thousand pounds on social media.
Undercover reporter Sam Poling found evidence that a convicted county lines drug dealer was conducting deals on American Bully puppies from inside prison.
She discovered that the unscrupulous dealers also took advantage of a loophole in dog breeding regulations that required a council license for a business selling puppies, but breeding exclusively from male dogs by selling their sperm or having them mate did not.
According to an animal welfare investigator who spoke anonymously to Panorama, the lax regulations attracted criminals to extreme dog breeding.
The program, which airs Monday nights at 8pm on BBC One, follows Ms Poling as she spends eight months secretly filming the underground dog breeding world.
One dealer, Thomas Rayment, was jailed in 2021 for running a heroin and crack cocaine gang in the north of England but his Facebook messenger account was used repeatedly to set up a deal with Poling.
His business partner, Ryan Howard, said during secret filming that Rayment was brokering the deal from prison but later denied this when contacted by the BBC.
‘Same business model as selling drugs… but with dogs’
“It’s a massively profitable trade,” an animal welfare investigator told Panorama. The majority of the big breeders are criminals, drug dealers, and organized crime gangs who are driving up the market. It is the exact same business model as selling drugs. But we’re discussing dogs.”
Despite the owners having recently been successfully prosecuted for animal welfare violations, BBC Panorama discovered another dog breeding business that was not connected to organized crime but was producing English bulldogs with extreme features.
Karl and Victoria Shellard were convicted of animal welfare violations last year after breeding dogs with unhealthy characteristics such as large skin folds that impeded their breathing. The Shellards were selling their extreme English bulldogs on social media for up to £20,000 each.
The couple were fined £19,000 each but despite their conviction they are still in business, with Karl boasting in undercover footage that he made between £90,000 and £100,000 in one month from carrying out nearly 41 studs.