DUBLIN • Illegal dog-breeding on an industrial scale has turned Ireland into the "puppy farm capital of Europe", according to campaigners who say a recent crackdown is failing to curb the lucrative trade.
Thousands of puppies worth hundreds of euros each are shipped through Britain to mainland Europe every year, many of them hidden in the back of vans and cars.
Ireland's canine trade is "a national disgrace", said Mr Brian Gillen, head of the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (DSPCA). "Our aim is to put them out of business," he added.
But welfare agencies face an uphill battle against an export industry - much of it illicit - involving at least 30,000 pups a year worth up to €20 million (S$30.6 million).
Seven intelligence-led seizures at Irish ports over the past two months have yielded 150 puppies.
Most were so-called "designer breeds" such as beagles, bichon frises, french bulldogs or King Charles spaniels. One shipment discovered in a car boot was worth just under €30,000.
Many of the pups are too young to travel, lack mandatory pet passports and microchips and are a potential health risk due to a failure to inoculate them against the deadly rabies virus. All of them, say welfare agencies, will likely develop illnesses as a result of in-breeding and their treatment.
Raids on illegal puppy farms have found cramped conditions, lack of exercise, poor sanitation and even lack of access to water.
But campaigners say the vast majority of smugglers continue to escape detection. Prosecutions are rare and to date nobody has been jailed.
The DSPCA has worked with government agencies in Britain to develop a coordinated strategy for stemming a trade facilitated by the Internet and the popularity of certain smaller breeds.
Official figures show there are 73 registered puppy farms in the Republic of Ireland producing at least 30,000 dogs a year. In contrast, 895 establishments in Britain produce only around 70,000 puppies.
"I would hesitate to call any dog a 'fashion statement', but there is little doubt that celebrity culture combined with the instant gratification enabled by the Internet is fuelling this horrible trade," said Mr David Wilson, spokesman for the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.