Profits from illegal dog breeding in Ireland is “akin to the drugs trade”, it has been claimed.
Designer dogs can sell for more than €36,000 each as backstreet breeders take advantage of trendy breeds made popular by celebrities and television shows.
Animal campaigners say they have seen a huge increase in the number of dogs being advertised online every year with unscrupulous breeders using the anonymity of the internet to place false or misleading ads.
Suzie Carley, executive director of Dogs Trust Ireland, said there is a huge concern the fashion takes priority over the welfare of the puppies.
“When breeders see there is a trend or a fashionable dog they will sometimes start breeding that particular dog without their welfare in mind,” she said. “They see an opportunity and will breed for a particular look but the health implications for that designer dog are incredible.
“The kind of money involved in this is akin to the drugs trade, this is serious business.
“Puppies are being sold before they should have left their mother, and are sold in what can be described as really poor breeding conditions.”
There are over 250 dog breeding establishments across Ireland, but Ms Carley wants the Irish government to crack down on unscrupulous puppy farms and breeders.
Tens of thousands of people have backed a petition to call on the government to review its Dog Breeding Establishment Act.
Ms Carley, who has been working with the trust for almost six years, wants the legislation changed so that anyone breeding three or more litters of puppies a year will have to apply for a licence.
The Dogs Trust and a number of other animal welfare agencies formed the Irish Pet Advertising Advisory Group (IPAAG) to ensure there is a minimum set of standards which breeders must adhere to.
“If you want to advertise a puppy you have to put down their age, include a photograph and other information to potential pet owners,” she added.
“We always say to people to please consider going to their local rescue centre or pound and rescue a dog ahead of shopping because there are thousands of dogs that need a loving home and that second chance in life.”
Research carried out by the charity found that over 74% of people didn’t take appropriate action before getting a dog.
“People are going online and making an impulse buy,” she added.
“Some breeders will say I will save you the journey and meet you at this car park and when they get there, it doesn’t feel right and people will say they had a gut feeling.
“They will see the poor puppy and think they want to take it away from that bad person and take the dog, but not realise they are helping to fuel the trade.”
There are currently a team of 75 staff at the Dogs Trust in Dublin who look after some 200 dogs at any one time.