A growing number of online pet trading, specifically dogs and cats, sparks a complex challenge for Brussels city to crack down on illegal animal selling announcements, misuse of animal commercial licenses, and other illegal activities
According to Four Paws International (a global animal welfare organization), the European online trade in puppies is worth almost 1.5 billion Euros per year and almost 2.4 million dogs are traded each year across the major European classified sites that advertise dogs. This figure was seen as significantly rising, especially during the pandemic.
FARI’s Animal Welfare Pilot Project aims to take part to tackle these issues by using technology and artificial intelligence to assist humans to track and control these illegal activities.
The project is built upon a design of algorithms and software to automatically detect online animal selling announcements on different websites. Based on the Animal Welfare Legislation, the technology classifies whether it follows the rules or not in a matter of seconds and therefore, the illegal announcements can be tracked before any animals will be sold.
However, identifying these illegal activities may not be as straight forward as there are many tricky online activities that make the detecting process a lot challenging. Those tricky animal selling behaviors can be seen in the forms of using fake license numbers or misuse of a license number. For instance, multiple users tend to use one license number or are using license that are not theirs. An even trickier behavior is when people display advertisements of household commodities when they are actually selling animals. Given a large amount of online animal-selling announcements every day, most of them last only for a few days, which makes it almost impossible for the authorities to take action against those activities without the help of technology. Therefore, this Animal Welfare Pilot Project also works to generate data and statistics that Brussels’ public administration does not have before, and in particular, to identify the unusual uses of the same license numbers or the unregistered license numbers.
The project is currently at the testing stage, targeting categories of all animals. As of late, the current software can detect around 200 announcements per day from several websites in seconds. The next step from here is to expand and convert this tool and lines of code into something that can be run every day and is useful for the public administration.
Animal welfare is an important social issue and needs careful attention and collaboration between the Brussels administration and technical researchers. The last announcement of a new animal welfare legislation from the Brussels Parliament in November 2018 changed the categorisation of animals from an object to “a living being endowed with sensitivity, interests of its own and dignity, that benefits from special protection”. Further actions, including this pilot project, are needed to ensure the effectiveness of the legislation in both regulating animal trading and protecting animal welfare in Brussels.