SOUTH Antrim MLA, John Blair has backed the launch of a report which exposes Northern Ireland’s multi-million pound puppy trade.
Alliance man Mr Blair addressed attendees at the official launch of the report at Stormont.
The USPCA’s report entitled ‘Puppy Dog Fortunes’, provides an insight into the operations of legal breeders, illegal breeders, transporters, and third-party sellers, all of whom are desperate to cash in on the multi-million pound industry at the expense of companion animals.
The animal charity’s report calls for enhanced regulation and better enforcement action to address the serious issues and loopholes currently being exploited by individuals involved in the trade.
In the last two years alone, the industry’s scale has rocketed, with the report citing Covid-19 as ‘fanning the flames’ on the demand for pups, with average prices reaching £2,000 each.
The USPCA believes criminal gangs have swapped their drug trade for illegal pet trafficking, which is estimated to have a value of £150m a year.
Many of the puppies are raised in squalid conditions on illegal farms and are malnourished or diseased and would otherwise not be sold, the USPCA found. The animal welfare charity believes about one-third of the puppies die, disappointing their new owners, who can pay thousands of pounds for a pet.
Commenting on the report, John Blair, MLA and Chair of the All Party Group on Animal welfare, stated: “Northern Ireland is lagging behind the other jurisdictions on these islands in terms of crucial animal welfare legislation and there is an urgent need to crack down on illegal puppy farms.
“I welcome the USPCA's report, Puppy Dog Fortunes, on illegal puppy trade.
“The report provides vital insight into the operations of illegal breeders and is a positive step towards tackling puppy farming and other animal abuses.”
Brendan Mullan, USPCA Chief Executive, said: “We have a very grave issue at hand which is causing unthinkable suffering to the thousands of dogs who are only seen as commodities by those engaged in this cruel 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.
This staffing ratio causes great concern for the welfare of the animals involved.
He continued: “The illegal side of the puppy trade in Northern Ireland represents 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.”
Intelligence gathered by the USPCA indicates the profitability of the industry.
Based on the movements of a single ‘licensed’ pet transporter, who is estimated to be illegally transporting 120 pups a week, this represents a prospective value of £11.7m over the period of a year.
“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.” said Mr Mullan.
“We fear that this industry is teetering dangerously on the edge of being uncontrollable in the absence of more effective regulation and enforcement.”