Derry and Strabane Council have revealed that there are no legally registered dog breeders operating in the area at present, amid warnings over unscrupulous puppy farmers operating under the radar.
The warning has been issued by Helen Davies, the founder of the Rainbow Rehoming Centre in Derry, who said there were numerous examples of puppies and their mothers being kept in cages and unable to cope after being sold off because they have never been socialised.
Underground breeders have been warned they can be jailed or fined thousands of pounds upon conviction.
A spokesperson for Derry City and Strabane District Council confirmed that the licensing of dog breeding establishments was made mandatory under the Welfare of Animals (Dog Breeding Establishments and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations (NI) Order, which came into came into effect on the 1st April 2013.
The council spokeswoman said: “The new licensing conditions provides Derry City and Strabane District Council with a means of regulating Dog Breeding Establishments ensuring that they meet the minimum standards relating to accommodation and environment, mating, whelping facilities, behaviour, socialisation and health.
“A Dog Breeding Establishment Licence is now a legal requirement for any Establishment which breeds or advertises for sale or supplies three or more litters of puppies in any 12 month period or advertises a business of breeding or selling of puppies.
“The fees for a Dog Breeding Establishment Licence depend on the number of bitches kept within the establishment.
“Members of the public who want to register have to purchase a block licence and can do so by clicking on the following link – www.derrypayments.com/Dog-Licence-Block-Application.aspx .
Block licenses can also be purchased by ordinary dog owners who just happen to have several dogs but are not breeding them.
The council spokesperson added: “I have been advised that we issued 45 block licences in our Council area and that we have no breeding establishments.”
Speaking after taking part in a Northern Ireland-wide rally against puppy farming in Belfast last weekend, Ms Davies said that councils in general needed to do more to tackle the issue.
“It is the council’s responsibility to check out breeding establishments and monitor them to ensure standards are being met,” she said, adding that designated animal welfare officers should play a more central role in checking out establishments.
Ms Davies also said that the general public “must also carry some of the blame for the current situation, with their desire for ‘cute’ designer dogs” while thousands of other dogs are put down or left in shelters every year.
A spokeswoman from the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development said the recently introduced law laid down specific standards that commercial dog breeders must meet to protect the welfare of all breeding bitches, stud dogs and pups.
She said: “The Regulations require commercial dog breeding establishments to be licensed and provide each Council with powers to inspect and grant licenses to establishments in their district.
“They allow Councils to charge a fee to cover any reasonable expenses incurred in issuing licenses and for monitoring compliance with the Regulation.
“Councils are required to keep a register of all Dog Breeding Establishments licensed in their respective Council area.”
She added: “The Regulations provide powers for Council inspectors to take action if a commercial breeder does not meet the standards. This includes the power to suspend or revoke a license if the breeder breaches the license conditions, and to prosecute when necessary.
“Councils also have powers under the Welfare of Animals Act 2011 to ensure the welfare of non-farmed animals including dogs, and the Council Animal Welfare Officers and Dog Wardens support each other in ensuring that welfare is protected.”