THE SCOTTISH Assembly is set to vote on banning the import of dogs from Irish puppy farms in what animal welfare campaigners regard as a significant victory against unscrupulous puppy traffickers.
The move follows the publication by a leading Northern Ireland animal welfare charity of the inhumane conditions found when three raids were carried out on puppy farms in Co Down this year in which a total of 130 dogs and pups were seized.
Photographs taken by the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals show pedigree dogs, many malnourished, being kept in filthy cramped conditions.
The Parliament's Environment and Rural Development Committee was due to meet this Wednesday to discuss the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Bill.
The committee’s Vice Convenor, Mark Ruskell, will table an amendment to the Bill with the aim of banning the puppy trade.
Mr Ruskell said: "These pictures are just the tip of the iceberg of this ruthless and evil trade. It's high time that Scotland stopped the sale of puppies who have been languishing in filthy conditions, and been abused and neglected.
"Unscrupulous traders are concerned only with making a fast buck - they don't care about dogs or people who pay hundreds of pounds for them only to discover later that their new pet is far from healthy."
The USPCA say it welcomes any legislation that addresses the problem. Chief executive Stephen Philpott said: "Curtailing imports into the UK market would seriously damage the puppy farming industry in the Republic and remove the financial motivation driving opportunistic criminal elements to set up operations in the north."
Edinburgh-based charity Advocates for Animals said that in a short period before Christmas 2005, the USPCA stopped vehicles at Larne Harbour carrying more than 300 pups across the Irish Sea.
They said hundreds of pedigree bitches may be kept on a farm, producing a constant supply of pups, each selling for a minimum of £300 each.
Dogs may be crammed in unsuitable kennelling and fed just enough to survive and breed, while veterinary care and vaccinations can be inadequate. The result is that customers may end up with an animal with physical defects, severe parasitic infections, hereditary diseases and behaviour problems.
In the worst cases, pets can die within a few days of serious illnesses such as parvovirus, distemper or gastroenteritis, leaving nothing but an expensive vet's bill.
Around 200-to 300 puppies are allegedly imported into Scotland for sale throughout the UK mainland each week, many via the port at Cairn Ryan, the charity claimed.
Advocates for Animals director Ross Minett said unscrupulous breeders and dealers were making vast amounts of money out of puppy trafficking.
"Unsuspecting Scots may buy a pedigree dog in good faith, unaware of the terrible conditions in which it may well have been raised and transported to Scotland," he said. "We are calling on the Scottish Parliament to ban the importation into Scotland of puppies from puppy farms in Ireland."
There is also evidence to suggest that large numbers of pedigree dogs that are stolen in the UK each year are, in fact, ‘stolen to order’ and shipped over to Ireland for use in breeding on puppy farms.
Margaret Nawrockyi, Co-ordinator for Dog Theft Action commented: "This is excellent news. Anything that may restricts the activities of dog thieves and puppy farm traders is very welcome to Dog Theft Action.
"We congratulate the Scottish Parliament for their foresight and determination to tackle this highly sensitive and important issue. It would be a positive step forward if the Westminster Parliament adopted a similar measure for their own Animal Welfare Bill, which applies to England and Wales.
"It is very gratifying to see the hard work and determination of organisations like Advocates for Animals and WAG being brought to fruition in such a visible manner."
Meanwhile, Ken McKie of the anti-puppy farm group WAG, who have fought a concerted action against the Irish puppy farmers for many years greeted the news enthusiastically.
Mr McKie told OUR DOGS: "It is with a high level of elation to WAG that Advocates for Animals have managed to have Mark Ruskell MSP; Vice-Convenor of the Animal Welfare Committee has tabled an amendment to the Animal Health and Welfare Bill, which aims to ban the inhumane shipments of puppies from Ireland to mainland UK. Whilst we could take the moral high ground and say that we have been asking for this for the past three and a half years, we are only delighted that at last someone is listening.
"Advocates for Animals are to be praised for their efforts on this matter. We have had a close association with Advocates over the puppy trade and they have given us great support, which has culminated in this amendment. We have to hope that common sense now lies with the politicians to invoke such a huge change in the law."