A third of dogs bought in the UK are believed to come from puppy farms, a leading animal charity has warned.
The USPCA (Ulster Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) is launching a new hard-hitting advertising campaign to highlight the dangers of buying from backyard breeders.
Stephen Philpott, USPCA chief executive, said: “The selling of animals online is like the wild west, our research has shown that you cannot put any faith in or rely upon the documents supplied with these animals.
“The vast majority are forgeries and this is fraud on an industrial scale.”
The multimillion-pound trade, which is rife in Northern Ireland, is also contributing to the thousands of stray dogs in the Province – the highest anywhere in the UK, according to the charity.
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.
But, on puppy farms where designer dogs are churned out and sold for hundreds of pounds, breeding bitches are given little or no respite.
Unsold or unwanted puppies, some with devastating illnesses like Parvo, are also often dumped at the gates of animal shelters and council pounds as the unscrupulous breeders attempt to off-load excess stock.
Mr Philpott added: “We welcomed new legislation back in 2012 to protect animals but sadly this is not being adequately enforced.
“Complaints continue to pour into the USPCA on a daily basis from distraught consumers whose dogs are sick and dying.
“Other members of the public think they can dump their family pet on the welfare organisations for no other reason than they have bought a new pup.”
He has appealed for the Assembly to tackle the growing problem of puppy farming with increased regulation.
The USPCA billboard and poster campaign will coincide with the airing of a BBC Panorama expose into the dog trade due to be aired on BBC1 Northern Ireland next Wednesday.