A puppy has been put down after a litter was dumped in a lay-by by a gang of men.
The American bulldog puppies were found in a dog crate, in Trenholme Lane, Hutton Rudby, Yarm, on 29 December, left by a gang in a black BMW SUV spotted by a couple who were driving by.
The men, who were wearing Covid face masks, made off after leaving the dogs.
The puppies were taken home by the couple, who then contacted the RSPCA.
They were taken to the vets for treatment, but one of them was so poorly vets put the animal to sleep.
It is thought the young bulldogs may have been owned by illegal puppy breeders, who, after failing to sell them over Christmas, chose to abandon them.
RSPCA chief inspector Mark Gent, who is investigating, said: "We are working with the police to try to find the people who left these poor puppies in a situation which could have seen them all not making it through the night.
"Some of the dogs were underweight and their ribs were clearly visible, while they were all covered in faeces.
"Fortunately, a couple out driving saw these men pull up in a BMW at the lay-by and after they left they took the puppies home with them.
"It may well be that these are puppies that have not been sold for Christmas and therefore they have become a problem rather than a source of money for someone, which has led to the decision to dump them.
"What is interesting is we’ve had other dogs abandoned in this area previously."
The RSPCA and North Yorkshire Police are trying to find those responsible and would like to hear from anyone who has any information about the vehicle.
As well as the PPE masks, the two men were wearing hoodies. Anyone with any information is asked to call the RSPCA appeals line number on 0300 123 8018.
The BMW which the men were driving was seen at around 4pm on the day the puppies were left.
Inspector Clive Turner, from North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Task Force, said: “The treatment of these puppies is as cruel as it is shocking, and we need to identify those responsible. I’d urge anyone with any information that could assist the investigation to get in touch as soon as possible."
This kind of abandonment is on the rise. The RSPCA has seen a 25% increase in the overall number of abandonment incidents, along with a 13 per cent rise in neglect incidents dealt with by rescue teams.
The charity’s most recent figures show that, up to October 2022, its rescuers dealt with 13,159 incidents of abandonment, which has risen from 10,519 for the same time period the previous year.
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