A warning has been issued to people seeking new homes for their pet dogs that they may end up being used as breeding machines by unscrupulous puppy farmers.
People buying puppies are also being urged to ensure that they are not unwittingly supporting animal cruelty and abuse.
The Rainbow Rehoming Centre in Eglinton, Co Londonderry, issued the hard-hitting warning and urged animal lovers to inspect where their dogs are going to or coming from.
Founder Helen Davies said: “The Rainbow Rehoming Centre has been carrying out many visits to areas throughout the North West with regards to complaints of cruelty/neglect of animals.
“Among some of these visits we have encountered some back yard breeders and puppy farm situations, were large numbers of dogs are being kept in poor conditions over long periods of time — sometimes for their lifetime — and used for breeding.
“These dogs never get out, they are kept in small pens or cages. They are not wormed or deflead or vaccinated.
“They are never exercised nor are they able to express natural behaviours.”
Ms Davies said unscrupulous breeders were charging huge amounts of money for pups that are “quite often unwell from lack of care or from over-breeding or inbreeding”.
She added: “A disturbing aspect of these puppy farms and back yard breeders, as we have discovered, is that quite often these dogs are acquired initially from adverts in local newspapers and free papers, where owners are simply looking for a good home for their family pet.
“We are sure if the previous owners were aware of the horrendous situations some of these animals end up in that they would be appalled.
“We would appeal to anyone who has a pet to rehome to check with local rescue centres or put notices in local vets, or try to re-home with a family member of friend.
“Always do a thorough home check on where their pet is going. Call to visit the new home and do not make a decision until you are sure.
“After rehoming your pet another unannounced visit is also a good idea. Neutering your pet will mean it cannot be used for breeding, but it may still be sold.”
Ms Davies said that changes needed to be enshrined in law to stamp out illegal puppy farms.