Greedy puppy farm owners have been cashing-in on gullible members of the public, a leading animal welfare charity has warned.
The Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA) has expressed alarm at the rising number of puppy farms, where so-called designer dogs are churned out and sold for hundreds of pounds.
David Wilson, a USPCA spokesman, said: “The problem stems from a gullible public and the avarice of breeders.
“There’s money to be made – and lots of it.”
Puppy farms range from backyard breeders, who keep a couple of breeding bitches, to commercial operations raking in thousands of pounds by exploiting hundreds of dogs.
Most use the internet as a source of sales.
Mr Wilson added: “The puppy farms exist because would-be dog owners are unwilling to wait for a puppy to be born and weaned.
“They want instant gratification and hand over cash.
“They do not see the puppy with its mother and do not insist on seeing signed veterinary certification of inoculations.”
Licences are required by owners who have three or more unsterilised bitches – any one of which is used for breeding, which breeds two or more litters of pups in a 12-month period.
The licence is issued and renewed by the local authority dog warden.
Mr Wilson said: “Many back yard puppy farms are unlicensed. Puppies are often not weaned properly, not inoculated against disease and often inbred.
“Conditions are generally dirty and unhygienic.”
Meanwhile, Kelly Davidson from Benvardin Animal Rescue Kennels (BARK) in north Antrim, said puppy farms were putting an increased burden on already stretched resources.
She said the anticipated influx of unwanted animals which were given as Christmas presents on top of the “excess stock” off-loaded by uncaring backyard breeders meant they may struggle.
Ms Davidson said: “The main piece of advice we would have would be to adopt, don’t shop. Puppy farms are absolutely a growing problem in Northern Ireland and resources are already under a lot of strain.
“We had 13 pups brought in, in one day recently. The pounds and rescue centres are absolutely choc-a-bloc and it is largely to do with this problem of puppy farms.”
Last year, dogs bred on a puppy farm were brought into the BARK rehoming centre suffering from Parvo and infected five other dogs resulting in seven animals having to be humanely destroyed.
Among the most popular ‘designer dogs’ are ‘jugs’ (a Jack Russell/pug cross) and ‘schoodles’ (a shih-tzu/poodle cross) often advertised in newspapers and online.
In Northern Ireland, one alleged puppy farm-linked prosecution is currently before the courts.