Family deny 'puppy factory' disease claim
Allegations that a Co Offaly family are running a puppy factory with hundreds of breeding dogs at a location which may be contaminated by canine brucellosis have been denied.
The handling of the case has also provoked a row between two of the country's leading animal welfare groups.
However, the controversy has prompted a Government response and a pledge that there will be no more delays on long-promised legislation to regulate large-scale commercial dog-breeding.
The Dublin Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (DSPCA) and its Ulster counterparts (USPCA) fear an outbreak of canine brucellosis at the Offaly 'farm', and their concerns were compounded due to the lack of co-operation from the family operating the premises.
Jimmy Cahill, chief executive of the DSPCA, said: "The farm is one of Europe's largest mass-breeding establishments. It is estimated that there could be as many as 1,000 dogs on the farm at the moment. The operators refused cooperation on the visit but reluctantly confirmed the presence of canine brucellosis.
"This is a highly-contagious bacterial disease and now may be endemic amongst the hundreds of dogs and pups currently on the farm or recently exported from it.
"We have not been able to find any Government department to take responsibility for investigating the situation. Yet, speaking with a local authority veterinary surgeon in the area, he informed us that the owner's vet had confirmed to him that there were positive cases at the farm and that he was working on a procedure to eradicate brucellosis from the site."
But the owner of the site has denied the allegations.
Canine brucellosis is not a notifiable disease, is no threat to the bovine herd and therefore of no concern to the Department of Agriculture. That's what Patricia James of the UK-based Puppy Alert was told when she contacted the department on Wednesday, worried that infected puppies would end up in UK pet shops.
"We are calling on the Department of Agriculture or Environment to take immediate action and quarantine this puppy farm to prevent any further contamination," warns Mr Cahill.
But these accusations were robustly denied by a spokesperson for the family at the centre of the controversy as they rejected the whole notion that they were churning out thousands of so-called 'pedigree puppies' annually.
"We are dog breeders and reputable ones," the spokeswoman said, but she refused to comment on DSPCA claims that they were housing 700 breeding bitches at their farm. She also claimed the officials' approach was heavy-handed, involving the gardai and media.
"It's absolutely humiliating on a reputable breeder," she said, categorically denying there had been recent positive tests for canine brucellosis.
A different perspective was offered by a spokesperson for the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA.)
"We have been aware of this breeder for a long time and have been working with them for a few years to build up a positive relationship and improve standards. Their feeling is that the DSPCA and USPCA overstepped the mark and this scaremongering is blown out of all proportion."
The Sunday Independent has learned that legislation to control so-called 'puppy farms' is finally being drafted.
"The Control of Dogs (Amendment) Bill 2009 will go before the Dail and Seanad by the autumn and will be cleared and enacted by the end of the year. This Bill will regulate establishments and large-scale dog breeders will be obliged to register, pay fees and submit to regular inspections," a spokesman for Environment Minister John Gormley said yesterday.