Inside the ‘battery farms’ where puppies are exploited by criminals for cash

Louise Scott reports on the efforts to stop puppy farms breeding animals in appalling conditions

Locked up, rarely fed and with little human interaction; this is the reality of illegal puppy breeding farms.

In a cold farm shed in central Scotland, dogs are living without fresh food or water, used solely to make money.

The illegal trade is worth £13 million in Scotland alone and is being linked to wider organised criminal gang networks.

ITV News was given exclusive access to a joint Scottish SPCA and Police Scotland raid on a low welfare facility.

While there, we were shown awful conditions with dogs living amongst their own faeces, empty crates to sleep on with a continuous cold winter wind and dim lighting.

ITV News was allowed to witness a joint Scottish SPCA and Police Scotland raid on a low welfare facility. Credit: ITV News

Amongst them were puppies, still with tails wagging, but upon closer inspection by a vet, they were found to have signs of dehydration and illness. They weren’t familiar with human contact and quivered when handled.

Scottish SPCA Officer Tracy Dow said: “It's a bad environment. There's no choice for them, they're all together.

"It's noisy, there's no daylight. It can lead to disease as it’s not a clean environment. And the stress for them as well, behavioural issues; because this is the peak time when they should be learning different behaviours."

"If they're not getting to interact with lots of other dogs in a nice environment, then sometimes they can be a little bit psychologically scarred from it.”

We were later told the puppies had tested positive for Giardia; a disease which leads to diarrhoea, nausea, and vomiting. This can kill them.

Speaking during the operation, Scottish SPCA undercover investigative officer 'Graham' said: “This is the breeding chamber here. This is the production aspect of it.

"These pups then get transported out to houses and passed off as being home bred dogs. This is a battery farm, but it's not producing eggs. This is a battery farm producing pups.

"And the commodity here is pups. It's unregulated, unlicensed and there's large amounts of money that are changing hands here to finance wider criminal activity.”

Operation Delphin is a UK wide taskforce tackling illegal puppy traders. It allows intel to be shared between authorities.

Police Scotland Inspector Ross McCallum said: “I think it's something that people don't always consider, actually where the puppy is coming from and what impact it has.

"It highlights the lack of care and welfare towards animals. And this is a police matter. It's the criminal activities behind it that we will look at prosecuting.

"There’s a whole strand of issues in terms of organized crime and wider spheres of criminality. And that's what we will look to address.”

ITV News Scotland Correspondent Louise Scott (right) saw some of the horrid conditions the animals were kept under. Credit: ITV News

The farm we filmed at was raided due to such intel. Families with puppies that were ill or even dying, reported the cases to authorities who linked them back to this site.

Scottish SPCA undercover investigative officer 'Graham' said: ”We believe these people do network as organized crime. We suspect these puppies will be distributed by persons involved in an illegal distribution network, who often exploit vulnerable people.

"Unbeknownst to them, they think they're buying from family environment. In fact, they're buying from intense low welfare, high profit puppy farms.”

It's estimated one in four puppies bought have been bred in an illegal puppy farm. The Scottish SPCA say consumers could end this trade overnight, by doing the correct research and ensuring they buy from a responsible breeder.

This can include asking to see the puppy’s parents, checking over veterinary forms and viewing where the puppies and mother dog live.

One in four dogs is now estimated to be bought from a puppy farm, with animals often kept in appalling conditions. Credit: ITV News

The dogs and puppies were all seized from the farm and taken to various Scottish SPCA centres for checks and medical treatment.

The owner never turned up while we were there, but this is not the end of the investigation.

'Graham' added: “Now that we have taken enforcement activity, we will use the courts and the criminal procedures to support us.

"In doing that, we can hopefully get persons banned in due course and disqualified from having or working or keeping our animals.

"So this is very much the enforcement side of Operation Delfin and that has substantial effect on reducing the trade of low welfare pups.”

The public are being urged to research before they buy, to stop funding this trade and the suffering of innocent animals

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