Rescued puppies' adoption stalled until 'owner' identified
The fate of 116 puppies seized by animal welfare officers at Dublin Port remain in legal limbo despite thousands of prospective dog owners queuing to give them homes.
The puppies, who ranged in age from just four to eight-weeks-old from 11 different breeds, were found in the back of two transit vans without access to food or water or any medical documents at the port on February 4. The van was about to board an Irish Ferries car-passenger ferry bound for Holyhead.
The seizure was part of a six-month joint investigation by customs, gardai and the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (DSPCA), into alleged puppy smuggling.
The DSPCA says the consignment of puppies was part of a highly organised, lucrative scam in which the dogs are being bred here, smuggled out of the country illegally and sold on to unscrupulous dealers in the UK who will flog them to unsuspecting buyers online or through notices in local veterinary surgeries or classified ads.
Judging by the size of the seizure and the potential profits involved, it's believed that similar-sized shipments are being smuggled out on each passenger-car ferry crossing from Dublin to Holyhead, the DSPCA alleges.
Eighty-four of the puppies are currently being housed at the DSPCA's headquarters in Rathfarnham, south Dublin, with the remainder being cared for at DSPCA foster homes.
Their plight made national headlines and led to one of the busiest visitor days ever at the DSPCA's animal sanctuary last Sunday. Although no one was able to adopt any of the seized puppies, a number of animal lovers left with adult dogs that were rescued by the charity.
But the heartbreaking story of the pups touched many animal lovers across the country. The DSPCA has received more than 4,000 inquiries from prospective owners wishing to adopt the puppies.
But because the puppies will be used as evidence in what officials hope will be the first prosecution under the strict new Animal Health and Welfare Act, 2013, they cannot legally be adopted until the owners have been identified and returned to them or they are turned over to the DSPCA by the courts, according to DSPCA spokeswoman Gillian Bird.
"They're not the property of the DSPCA so we can't do anything with them yet. The puppies are still the property of the owner and even if the owner is convicted, they're still their property unless a judge orders them to surrendered to us."
However, the chances of the puppies being returned to their owner are slim, given the astronomical bills he or she will incur on top of any fines or potential criminal charges.
Bills for micro-chipping the dogs alone would cost close to €3,000 on top of a minimum charge of €25-a-day per dog for upkeep. No one has been charged in connection with the seizure so far.
In the meantime the puppies are continuing to thrive and there is no shortage of animal lovers who want to adopt them.
But their sheer vulnerability was a heartbreaking sight last week. A litter of West Highland terriers who were only four-weeks-old and would normally still be weaning when they were seized, were just slightly bigger than a small plush toy they huddled against lethargically to keep warm.
Other kennels in the "sick room" contained a litter of tiny Cocker Spaniels who looked more like large hamsters who were also huddled together to stay warm while the other side of the enclosure housed older and less fragile puppies.