PRESSURE MOUNTED on both the Irish and Scottish Governments to act decisively to end the illegal trade in puppies between both countries and the rest of the UK after two Irishmen were arrested and charged on suspicion of transporting car loads of pedigree puppies in cruel conditions for sale in Scotland, where the animals fetch higher prices.
As reported previously, the puppies, many of them only three weeks old, were said by police to have been held in appallingly cramped conditions. The arrests have prompted the Scottish Parliament to introduce new laws to halt the trafficking of pups, which animal welfare groups claim has increased in the past year.
The arrests have also increased pressure on the Irish Government to introduce a proper licensing system to try and regulate dog breeding in Ireland. One Irish dog breeder, from the north, was caught after disembarking from a Northern Irish ferry. Police searched his trailer and found 102 puppies, ranging from St Bernards to Shih-tzus, packed into boxes. Police suspect the puppies were from a large puppy farm in Ireland.
A spokesman for Dumfries and Galloway police said: "The puppies, many of them only three weeks old, were found to be in very poor physical condition and suffering from stress, with some infested with fleas and worms.
These dogs have been traced back to a so-called puppy farm in the south of Ireland. The importation of these animals is a new phenomenon which seems to have arisen since regulations closed down similar farms in Britain."
One of the men has been convicted in the past of running a pet shop in Scotland without a licence. He is currently charged in connection with animal cruelty. The second Irishman was arrested at the same place — Stranraer port — for bringing 70 puppies into the country from Ireland in his van. The animals were seized but the driver was released without charge.
Three weeks ago John Walsh, the livestock dealer convicted of introducing foot-and-mouth-infected sheep into Ireland two years ago, was fined a paltry £500 in a Scottish court for importing 49 puppies from Ireland, packed into boxes in his car boot. No penalty was imposed for the suffering caused by the animals, despite representations form the SSPCA and the anti-puppy farm group WAG.
Animal welfare groups say the arrests highlight an increase in the trafficking of puppies between Ireland and Britain in the past year. They say unscrupulous dealers are exploiting a loophole in Irish law, which allows puppy farms to operate unregulated. According to the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA), some breeders run "factory farms" with dogs crammed into disease-ridden pens.
In the UK, where puppy farms are more stringently regulated, a St Bernard puppy can fetch up to £400, compared with a wholesale price of £100 in Ireland, according to Alastair Keen of the ISPCA.
He says there are up to 50 puppy farms in Ireland, with up to 500 animals housed in often cramped conditions. Some are believed to have relocated to Ireland from the UK when regulations governing dog breeding were tightened.
"Anybody in Ireland can set themselves up as a dog breeder. The only statutory requirement is that a person obtains what is known as a general dog licence. They are then allowed to keep as many animals as they wish," said Keen. "We are compiling evidence of conditions to compel the government to act."
The Scottish Parliament last week introduced a bill to prohibit the sale of dogs under seven weeks old which requires veterinary checks for all pups within 24 hours of arriving in Scotland. They will also be fitted with a microchip.
Christine Grahame, the member of the Scottish Parliament, who is sponsoring the Bill, said: "West of Scotland ports are being used to import these dogs which are often sick and have had to endure terrible conditions during their travel. The Parliament is going to introduce legalisation whereby dogs under seven weeks can not be sold.
"This legalisation is specifically aimed at attempting to halt these illegal traders who are sourcing these pups in the south of Ireland."
Meanwhile, the lenient fine handed down to John Walsh was raised in the Scottish Parliament by Labour MSP Margaret Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun). She asked: "What action will [the Scottish Executive] take in light of the sentence of John Walsh at Stranraer sheriff court?"
The Minister for Justice, Cathy Jamieson replied: "Sentencing is a matter for the court. It would therefore be inappropriate for me to comment on individual cases."
Margaret Jamieson responded: "As someone who shares my concerns on animal cruelty, will the minister ensure that steps are taken throughout the Executive to protect animals that are cruelly treated? Will that extend to those who use the current planning legislation -which ignores the views of animal welfare organisations, local authorities and local communities -to pave the way for puppy farms such as those at Waterside in my constituency?
The Minister replied: "It is worth remembering that dog-breeding establishments are licensed by local authorities, which have the power to issue licences after inspection; to conduct regular inspections to ensure that the licence conditions are being met; to revoke licences if those conditions are not being met; and to report cases of animals being ill treated to the procurator fiscal.
"The Scottish Executive will introduce an animal welfare bill, which will aim to update existing animal welfare legislation and ensure that cruel practices are prohibited."
SNP MSP Christine Grahame (South of Scotland) added: "I hear what the minister says about the animal welfare bill. It is my understanding that my Bill, the proposal for which I have lodged, will still be required because its provisions could not be dealt with under the Executive's proposed legislation. As I have obtained cross-party co-sponsorship for my proposed Bill, which has obtained 30 signatures since it was lodged yesterday, as well as the active support of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and other canine welfare organisations, will the Minister confirm that the Executive will give my Bill fair wind to end this miserable trade in an accelerated manner?"
The Minister gave an assurance of sorts, saying:" As with any member's Bill, the Executive will look very closely at the proposals in the Bill, together with what we intend to do on the matter. I reassure the member that we take the issue of animal welfare very seriously. We will consider including a section in our future bill on animal welfare to close the gap left by the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999 by legislating on aspects of the sale of dogs from non-breeding establishments, such as the age at which puppies can be sold."