Puppy farming in Northern Ireland has reached epidemic proportions as unscrupulous breeders hide behind lax laws that allow them to over-breed dogs without punishment.
Helen Davies from Rainbow Rehoming, a pet charity and rescue organisation, in Co Londonderry, says more and more of her time is spent visiting suspected puppy farms.
The Ulster Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals say that hitting bad breeders in the pocket is the best way to stop the trade.
David Wilson from the USPCA said that the situation is at breaking point.
“Puppy farmers from the Republic of Ireland, and now Northern Ireland, breed hundreds of puppies a month, sell them through small ads or over the internet on free websites and ship them over to England at hugely inflated prices.
“The welfare organisations bear the brunt — these poor animals suffer from severe health problems and congenital conditions.
“People need to educate themselves as to what a reputable breeder is and they need to wait — this attitude of ‘I want a cute puppy and I want it now’ needs to stop.
“They are also being ripped off. £350 for a Jack Russell terrier and more than £1,000 for a large breed dog — none of which have pedigrees despite what print-outs these puppy farmers might show you — is outrageous.
“The best course of action is to go to Trading Standards, go to the taxman or stop buying — it may be tempting to ‘save’ one but, in the long run, it fuels the illicit trade.”
Ms Davies recounted a visit to a puppy farm in Derry this week where pups were being kept in cages in a shed.
“I picked up one pup and knew immediately the poor thing was full of worms — despite the seller assuring me the pups were all wormed and vaccinated.
“Once a woman brought a pup to us that she had paid hundreds of pounds for and it was vomiting up worms. The vet could do nothing to save it and it had to be put to sleep.
“I once visited another puppy farm in a council estate and, although outside the house was a large boat and a 4x4, the dogs were crammed into tiny cages in a shed and the mother dog looked like she hadn't ever seen daylight.”
Ms Davies has urged the public to avoid multiple ads bearing the same number selling lots of different breeds, or sellers offering to deliver a pup.
Reputable breeders will also have no difficulty with letting anyone see their premises, and most importantly, seeing the mother of the pups.
Ms Davies added that a tightening in English legislation has seen stricter controls which means puppy farmers here ship their animals to Britain, where there is even more demand.
A PSNI spokeswoman said: “Local district councils enforce the legislation governing the registration and inspection of breeding establishments.
“Any concerns that the legislation does not adequately address the problem should be forwarded to the relevant council.
“Police have powers under the Welfare of Animals Act (NI) 1972 to enforce the law in relation to any report of animal cruelty.”