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Wicklow puppy farm ‘one of the worst ever’

ANIMAL WELFARE officers in Ireland are counting the cost of a rescue mission on a puppy farm after they discovered more than 80 animals living in ‘appalling conditions’.

Acting on a tip-off from a member of the public, officials from Wicklow SPCA raided the farm in south Wicklow. However, after discovering the scale of the operation, they called in Dublin SPCA for help in rescuing the animals.

At the farm they found 76 dogs - many of them pregnant bitches or with litters - and an assortment of other animals, living in their own excrement in what officers said were dreadful conditions. The puppy farm was denounced as ‘one of the worst ever’ seen by officers. The dogs, mostly Yorkshire Terriers, were being held in farm outbuildings, some in dark wooden crates, barrels and even abandoned cars.

Up to 30 dogs were transferred to Wicklow SPCA's animal sanctuary in Sharpeshill, Rathdrum, while another 46 were taken to Dublin - 16 had to be put down.

In a statement, both societies described Ireland as a place where ‘cheap, poor quality pure-bred dogs are mass-produced by the hundreds in cages, and bred successively until they drop’. They said: ‘Once again this appalling episode of dogs bred in this dreadful condition just for profit highlights the very urgent need for proper animal welfare legislation.’

Dublin SPCA education officer Orla Aungier said the animals found at the Co Wicklow farm were suffering from a variety of health problems, a massive flea infestation, mange, cataracts, ear mites, overgrown nails, mammary tumours and problems with their teeth.

Ms Aungier said there were hundreds of puppy farms around the country whose sole purpose was to provide bitches to continuously produce pups for sale, many of them to the UK, where they are imported via Scottish ports. Wicklow SPCA vice-president Fiona Gammell said her officers and she herself had never before come across such a scene. ‘There were dogs living in boxes, barrels and in pallets. Six of them were in a car and they were better off than most of them,’ she said.

Incredibly, the owner of the puppy farm denied she had mistreated the animals and said she was considering suing the people that took the dogs for harassment. However, the WSPCA has rejected the claims out of hand, saying that owner Brigid Sinnott signed over the puppies willingly after being visited by animal welfare officials.

Ms Sinnot, who lives on a property two miles from Carnew, declined to comment any further when reporters from the Wicklow People newspaper called at her property. having earlier spoken to the Sunday World newspaper. ‘I always did my best for the puppies and never ill-treated any of them,' she said in the Sunday World interview. ‘They weren't even really mine. They belonged to my late brother Andy, who died last March and I more or less inherited them afterwards. Here I was still mourning the loss of my brother and all this happens. I am now considering taking legal action against the ISPCA I am consulting my solicitors about the treatment I was subjected to here. I was treated worse than a common criminal.'

Ms Sinnot claimed that animal welfare workers raided not only the land but also went into the house, even looking under the sheets of her bed for puppies. ‘It was not a moneymaking business, although I did sell some through the Buy and Sell. That was just an outlet where I could find some suitable, kind owners. It's not easy looking after so many animals, particularly when you have no one to help you. I don't know what to do or think now. My world has fallen apart.'
However, Fiona Gammell, vice president of the Wicklow Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, dismissed the claims as ‘ridiculous', saying Ms Sinnot signed over the animals willingly.

‘I'm very hurt about these allegations but I know they are untrue. We were very, very nice to this lady. She signed over the dogs willingly in four different places on the form and she had a friend who witnessed it and also signed the form twice.’ Ms Gammell said the welfare officers followed standard procedures during the raid and defended her officers, adding: ‘If another case comes up next week (just like this) we would do the same thing again'.

She said the rescued dogs, which are at sanctuaries in Rathdrum and Dublin, were recovering well. ‘They think they have been reborn,' she said. ‘They have had no life whatsoever but they are just so happy now.'

She said the dogs were getting healthier each day but many of the animals needed rehabilitating because they have had no human contact at all in their lives and would not be released for rehoming for several weeks.