More than 30 puppies have been rescued in a pre-Christmas crackdown on puppy traffickers at ports in Larne and Belfast.
The figures were revealed by Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen, who warned that the illegal movement of dogs through Northern Ireland’s ports “will not be tolerated.”
The Minister was speaking ahead of a meeting to review a joint initiative between her Department, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and Belfast City Council.
At Larne Harbour, 145 cars and 49 vans were inspected, with any pups which failed to comply with animal welfare or identification being prevented from travelling or surrendered to Animal Welfare Officers for rehoming.
At Belfast Port, approximately 460 cars and 106 commercial vehicles were inspected using a risk based random approach.
The operation was mounted before Christmas amid concerns regarding potential illegal movements of commercial consignments of dogs.
It focussed on the welfare of animals during transport, the identification of animals and the licensing and registration of dog breeding establishments.
In the case of dogs moving from the Republic of Ireland, checks were also made on compliance with the Pet Travel Scheme and relevant trade requirements.
Ms McIlveen commended the joined-up work between councils and DAERA.
She said: “The very productive joint working initiative between Council Animal Welfare Officers and my Department’s Portal Inspectors at Belfast and Larne ports over the past two weeks resulted in several hundred vehicles being checked and over 30 pups being either prevented from travelling or surrendered at the ports.
“This sends out a clear message that enforcement bodies will take whatever action necessary to ensure that the welfare of animals is protected, that illegal movement will not be tolerated and that legislative requirements are met.”
Departmental officials are due to meet with the councils involved this week to review the joint operation.
Ms McIlveen added: “I understand that a number of investigations are underway and information gathered will be shared with enforcement bodies in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland, to provide ongoing intelligence across all enforcement bodies and agencies to tackle illegal puppy trade.
“Legislation alone will not stop illegal puppy farming.
“This will take a concerted effort by members of the public and enforcement agencies working together to identify breeders who put financial gain before the welfare needs of their dogs and pups.