Deafening howls echo through the dark hall, somewhere in the Polish periphery. Dozens of dogs are vegetating there, looking scared or apathetic. Only a little straw protects them from the cold concrete floor. Some are penned up in their own excrement. Right in the middle: a litter of husky puppies, crowded close to their mother - who has probably spent her whole life chained in this crate. Videos of the animal protection organization Four Paws show these catastrophic conditions.

This article comes from the "WirtschaftsWoche".

On countless backyards, mostly in Eastern Europe, such scenes take place in multiplication stations. The name makes it clear what it's all about: bitches produce offspring like on an assembly line. If they can no longer do this, the death sentence will come. Multipliers treat the animals like soulless goods. In poor health, unvaccinated and mostly too young, they are exported to Germany and other European countries - past applicable EU law. With the corona-related border closures, many breeders stayed on the puppies. Animal welfare organizations such as Four Paws fear that they will put the animals to sleep and cremate them. Because without buyers they are worthless to the propagators.

The business with puppies is booming - and attracts criminals. Hardly any other industry can achieve higher returns. Online platforms are turning into animal exchanges - and are putting companies like eBay under pressure to justify themselves.

The EU estimates that more than 46,000 dogs are traded between Member States each month - mostly without registration. "Illegal trade in dogs and cats is the third largest source of income after the organized drug and arms trade," says former CDU MEP Renate Sommer about the animal black market in the EU. The European Parliament recently called on the Commission to act - but with Corona, the puppy trade is likely to slide down on the list of priorities. The dimension is immense: According to estimates, the backers worldwide generate annual sales of one billion euros - with astronomical profit margins for dealers. They pay 50 euros for a puppy from the multiplication stations. In Germany, they raise up to 1,000 euros depending on the breed. Demand is guaranteed: Over nine million dogs live in Germany alone - and the trend is rising.

Hardly anyone knows the market as well as Birgitt Thiesmann. With her colleagues from Vier Pfoten, she is committed to saving these dogs. A long value chain begins in the puppy factories, she says: "This is organized gang crime."

The process is almost always the same: propagators from Eastern Europe produce puppies in chords, smugglers smuggle animals across borders, intermediaries pass them on to retailers who sell them to unsuspecting private individuals via platforms such as eBay classified ads. With every intermediate instance, the traces of the puppy's origins are blurred. It is not uncommon for supposedly reputable breeders to get their dogs from such puppy factories, says Thiesmann - and make buyers believe that they grew up in a species-appropriate manner. Vier Pfoten claims that sometimes dubious official veterinarians and veterinarians are involved in the process.

A pug for 500 euros

Selling dogs is easier than ever. New advertisements are uploaded daily to online platforms such as eBay classifieds and Quoka. Pug puppies from Bavarian Zeilarn are currently available for 500 euros each, a border collie cub in Wachtberg in North Rhine-Westphalia costs 650 euros. And for popular fashion dogs like a litter of French bulldogs, retailers are proud to call out 1250 euros per young dog. In the fourth quarter of 2019 alone, eBay classifieds had 14,000 advertised dogs. Nobody knows how many were bred and sold under non-species-appropriate conditions.