A multi-agency approach is underway to thwart the traffic of farmed puppies through ports, including Larne, by organised gangs.
The action comes as animal welfare organisation the USPCA told the Larne Times that all Northern Ireland ports have seen an increase in the number of young pups smuggled out for sale in Scotland or farther afield.
Recently, 10 puppies worth around £8000 were rescued from the Port of Cairnryan after being trafficked through a Belfast port.
The rescue was part of Operation Delphin, a multi-agency initiative between the USPCA, the Scottish SPCA, The Dublin and Irish SPCAs, and Customs & Excise to end the illegal trade in pups.
“Cairnryan is the major destination for the puppy dealers as they have access into England,” David told the Times.
“Organised gangs are doing this and they only care about the welfare of their wallets,
“It’s a huge problem and you would see dead puppies lying by the side of the road in Scotland.
“I’m very concerned that the number of detections is on the rise at Northern Ireland ports.”
David revealed that the vulnerable pups are subjected to horrific ordeals before they even reach Northern Ireland. “Typically the pups are thrown in a box in the boot of a car with another litter in the Republic, changed to other vehicles, driven hundreds of miles, then taken over to Cairnryan and passed on,” he explained.
“The pups are usually concealed in boxes or crates to keep them out of sight at the port.
“Many of these pups are dehydrated and stressed and may have worms. Some are as young as six weeks, which is too early to be separated from their mothers. They have to be hand-reared and there is no guarantee they will survive.
“They are generally microchipped to give the impression that they are legitimate animals, but they are not registered to anyone.”
Since the USPCA has no power of seizure, the organisation tracks the trafficked animals until they arrive in Scotland, where they are intercepted by the Scottish SPCA (SSPCA).
“The Scottish SPCA have powers to stop and search, so we watch them on this side then alert the SSPCA before they get into England,” David continued.
“The animals are vet checked and returned to Ireland to be re-homed.”
Port of Larne general manager Roger Armson said: “We work closely with our colleagues at P&O Ferries, whose terms of business include the requirement for bookings that include pets to be made in advance of travel.
“No more than four pets are permitted per vehicle. However, if more than four pets are travelling, P&O Ferries requests that an Authority to Travel permit is completed at each port, with the customer present, and P&O Ferries notifies the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Larne of the movement of four or more dogs and they follow this up with their own enquires.
“We also liaise with the SSPCA on operations and they have previously carried out an audit of the port, in conjunction with the local Port Unit, who were happy with our policies and procedures.
“There have been no farmed puppies seized going through the Port of Larne this year. In addition to the robust policies and procedures outlined here, we also carry out random searches of vehicles, act on tip-offs and cooperate fully with the relevant authorities to help stop trafficking of this kind, and therefore have no plans to implement additional measures at this time.”
A spokesperson for Mid and East Antrim Borough Council said that the local authority gave “high priority to the welfare of domestic animals and equines”.
“Council’s Animal Welfare Officers are empowered under the Welfare of Animals Act (NI) 2011,” he stated.
“Council operates a rigorous enforcement policy to ensure full compliance of regulatory requirements. All complaints are investigated thoroughly and where necessary formal action is taken, which may include the service of Improvement Notices or, in extreme cases, the seizure of animals.
“Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) have inspectors at each of the ports, including Larne Port. They conduct risk-based non-discriminatory checks on transporters of animals that travel through the ports, including companion animals such as pups.
“Council’s Animal Welfare Staff and DAERA work jointly with regard to animal welfare matters, including the sharing of information, both at a local level and on a provincial level. Where there are any welfare concerns for these animals, the council-employed animal welfare officer will be requested to attend by the DAERA Inspector.”