A HAMPSHIRE MP has joined a new puppy smuggling task force.

Caroline Nokes, who represents Romsey and Southampton North, has joined forces with Dogs Trust, the UK's largest dog welfare charity, to call on the government to stop the illegal importation of puppies into the UK.

She had previously spoken out about the trade last year, following the heartbreaking disappearance of a beloved pet in Wherwell.

Dogs Trust has been calling for the government to end puppy smuggling for over six years, calling current legislation "not fit for purpose".

They have conducted four undercover investigations to expose the "abhorrent" trade and say that thousands of puppies are illegally imported into Great Britain every year.

Now, they've invited Ms Nokes to the task force which aims to end the trade.

The MP said: "I am delighted to join the Puppy Smuggling Taskforce and support Dogs Trust in their efforts to raise awareness of and tackle the abhorrent puppy smuggling trade.

“At a time when demand for dogs in the UK has never been higher, I want to urge my constituents to really do their research before buying a puppy advertised for sale online, as it’s all too easy to be duped into buying a dog that’s been illegally smuggled into the country.

“Dogs Trust has been campaigning on this issue for many years now, and I’m proud to be able to say I’m part of the Puppy Smuggling Taskforce to help put a stop to puppies needlessly suffering at the hands of criminals.”

Ms Nokes had called for a law change after a beloved family dog went missing in Wherwell.

Villagers banded together back in September after Lindesay and Jeanne Rudd-Clarke's pet Cleo went missing.

They even went as far as using drones to see if they could get a sight of her, but after the extensive search, Lindesay now believes she was stolen.

Speaking in a Westminster Hall debate in October, Ms Nokes called the trade a "wicked and despicable crime".

“She was company, she was exercise, she was part of the family,” she said. “We’re all trying to make her disappearance as well known as we can, hopefully making her too hot to handle.”

MPs were debating the proposals after a petition to make pet theft a specific offence reached 100,000 signatures, which requires it to be considered for a debate in parliament. At present, pets are treated the same as inanimate objects when it comes to sentencing.

Addressing other MPs, Nokes said: “We’ve heard this afternoon that in law, stealing a pet is no different to any inanimate object. But they’re not inanimate, and the trauma of losing a pet is absolutely horrific.

“There does need to be a decoupling from sentencing for the animal’s value... I don’t want to dwell on the reasons why a dog might be stolen… but the reasons are absolutely horrific. They don’t end up in the arms of a family which love them in the same way the one they have been ripped from does.”

Dogs Trust is calling on the government to raise the minimum age for puppies to be imported to the UK to six months, and bring in tougher penalties for smuggling them into the UK.

Anyone with information about Cleo’s disappearance can call 101 with the reference 44200367337 to assist with Hampshire Constabulary’s investigation.