Stormont has been urged to act to close loopholes in the law exploited by people involved in puppy farms.
A new report released by the USPCA charity has revealed the scale and nature of the industry in Northern Ireland supplying a demand for puppies across the UK.
The report, Puppy Dog Fortunes, provides an insight into the operations of legal breeders, illegal breeders, transporters, and third-party sellers, cashing in “at the expense of defenceless companion animals”.
It found that the industry had “rocketed” over the last two years, citing Covid-19 as “fanning the flames” of the demand for puppies, with average prices reaching £2,000.
Intelligence gathered by the charity based on the movements of a single licensed pet transporter, who is estimated to be illegally transporting 120 puppies a week, indicates they may make up to £11.7 million a year.
The USPCA has called for enhanced regulation and better enforcement action to address loopholes being exploited by individuals involved in the trade.
Meanwhile, a BBC Northern Ireland Spotlight programme this week reported that the region was the “gateway for a multi-million-pound black market in puppies into Great Britain”.
USPCA chief executive Brendan Mullan said unthinkable suffering was being caused to thousands of dogs who were only seen as commodities by those engaged in the trade, both legally and illegally.
“Northern Ireland has at least 45 licensed breeding establishments – one of which we are aware has nearly 700 breeding bitches and apparently only 10 members of staff,” he said.
“This staffing ratio causes great concern for the welfare of the animals involved.”
Today we are pleased to launch our report 'Puppy Dog Fortunes' which details the shocking scale and ruthless nature of the #NI puppy industry, which has been feeding the demand for pups not only on a local level, but also in GB. Please read: https://t.co/Z9Oda3kHO6 pic.twitter.com/iGxgO2FMXk
— USPCA Official (@USPCA_Official) October 20, 2021
Mr Mullan said the illegal side of the puppy trade represented a “sophisticated, inter-connected web of criminal activity”.
“There is significant need for targeted and focused enforcement in respect of all groups and individuals involved – the illegal breeders, transporters and dealers,” he said.
“This is a cruel money-making industry that demonstrates no regard for the welfare of animals.
“This report aims to shine a much-needed light on the issue, as the first step in tackling it involves recognition of the scale and seriousness of the problem.
“We fear that this industry is teetering dangerously on the edge of being uncontrollable in the absence of more effective regulation and enforcement.”
The report was launched at Stormont on Wednesday.
Chair of the All Party Group on Animal Welfare John Blair said Northern Ireland was lagging behind the other jurisdictions in terms of animal welfare legislation.
“There is an urgent need to crack down on illegal puppy farms,” the Alliance MLA said.
“The report provides vital insight into the operations of illegal breeders and is a positive step towards tackling puppy farming and other animal abuses.”
DUP MLA Robin Newton has drafted a private members’ bill to address many of the issues, including the introduction of Lucy’s Law in Northern Ireland which would make it illegal to sell puppies and kittens under six-months-old through third-party sellers such as pet shops or commercial dealers.