Drug gang bosses breeding ‘designer bulldogs’ for £20,000 a pet

Keanu - an American Bully with extreme features - BBC Panorama
Keanu – an American Bully with extreme features – BBC Panorama

Drug gang bosses have turned to “designer bulldog” breeding earning thousands of pounds per pet, an investigation by Panorama has found.

The eight-month investigation by the BBC programme found that criminals were making thousands breeding dogs with extreme and unhealthy characteristics, such as excessive skin folds or large, muscular frames.

The programme found that networks of dealers were exploiting the growing demands for dogs with unusual features, such as huge frames or disproportionately short legs. The tops of the dogs’ ears are also cut off in a painful and illegal practice known as “ear cropping”.

Some of the animals are sold on social media for over ten thousand pounds.

Undercover reporter Sam Poling found evidence that a convicted county lines drug dealer was conducting deals on American Bully puppies from inside prison.

Puppies with cropped ears - BBC Panorama
Puppies with cropped ears – BBC Panorama

She found that the unscrupulous dealers also exploited a loophole in dog breeding regulations whereby a business selling puppies needed a licence from the council, while breeding exclusively from male dogs through selling their semen or having them mate did not require a licence.

An animal welfare investigator who spoke anonymously to Panorama said that the lax regulations made extreme dog breeding attractive to criminals.

The programme, broadcast on Monday night on BBC One at 8pm, follows Ms Poling as she spends eight months secretly filming the underground dog breeding world.

American Bully - BBC Panorama
American Bully – BBC Panorama

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’

An animal welfare investigator told Panorama: “It’s a massively lucrative trade. The big breeders… the majority of them are criminals, drug dealers, organised crime gangs who are driving up the market. It’s exactly the same business model as selling drugs. But we’re talking about dogs.”

BBC Panorama identified another dog breeding business which was not connected to organised crime but was producing English bulldogs with extreme features, despite the owners having recently been successfully prosecuted for animal welfare offences.

Karl and Victoria Shellard were convicted of animal welfare offences last year having bred dogs with unhealthy features such as huge skin folds inhibiting their breathing. The Shellards were selling their extreme English bulldogs for up to £20,000 each on social media.

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.

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