The USPCA played a key role in an overnight seizure of 27 illegal puppies at a port in Scotland yesterday.
The dogs, mostly collies and spaniels, are believed to have been bred in Galway, and shipped to Scotland via Northern Ireland.
Police Scotland swooped in Cairnryan and the pups were seized by the Scottish SPCA as they were about to be taken from the ferry in a van.
USPCA staff brought the young dogs - none of whom had been vaccinated or microchipped - back to Northern Ireland.
The puppies, which are around 12 weeks old, have an estimated black market value of £15,000. It's understood no arrests were made.
Each year, many hundreds of vulnerable animals bred in Republic of Ireland puppy farms are smuggled into the UK market illegally using Northern Ireland ferry routes.
It's just a short drive from Cairnryan to Scotland's major cities, and to the north of England, where the pups are sold on the black market.
USPCA spokesman David Wilson said that the puppies had been given a check-up by USPCA staff at Newry before being returned to the Republic, where they would be cared for by the ISPCA until they were eventually rehomed.
The co-ordinated swoop and rescue action is the latest in the ongoing work of Operation Delphin, a multi-agency animal welfare link-up bringing together police and animal welfare organisations from the UK and Ireland.
The USPCA was founded in 1836 - and is the second oldest animal welfare charity in the world.
It is committed to the prevention of cruelty to animals, the relief of suffering and the advancement of animal welfare.
USPCA chief executive Brendan Mullan said last night: "The USPCA investigates a number of serious animal welfare abuses across Northern Ireland and works closely with our partners involved with Operation Delphin to disrupt and deter the highly lucrative criminal trade in puppies.
"USPCA cooperation and intelligence are key to the many successes of Operation Delphin to date.
"This charity's role in the disruption of this cruel trade in vulnerable animals is a drain on both its physical and financial resources.
"However, the successful recovery of these 27 pups provides the reassurance needed to continue the fight," Mr Mullan said.