Ferry firm Stena Line to tackle puppy farm dealers
The ferry operator Stena Line is to crack down on illegal puppy dealers found to be using its Belfast to Cairnryan service.
News of the move follows a BBC investigation which highlighted how the route was being used to traffic puppy-farmed dogs into Scotland.
Britain's Puppy Dealers Exposed covertly-filmed handovers of puppies to a group of Scottish dog dealers.
The animals had been sourced from a puppy farm in Northern Ireland.
The BBC Panorama team also found evidence of dogs shipped from puppy farms in the Irish Republic which were then sold by online sellers as animals bred in Scotland.
Stena Line is working alongside Scottish SPCA investigators at the Cairnryan port as part of a multi-agency approach to target the dealers.
Under the operation - codenamed Delphin - Scottish SPCA investigators are using new powers to stop and search the vehicles of those it suspects of illegally trafficking puppies.
Anyone found to be illegally shipping dogs to the UK mainland will be stopped from travelling further and turned back to Belfast.
Those who refuse to go back face being prosecuted and having their puppies seized.
Stena said it was keen to ban illegal puppy dealers from using its service but such a move would require a change in legislation.
Diane Poole, a spokeswoman for the ferry operator, said: "Stena Line totally condemns the illegal trafficking of puppies and works hard to stamp out the practice by carrying out a number of checks to ensure the safe and comfortable transportation of pets.
"However, ultimately the legal enforcement of this responsibility lies with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development [Dard] in Northern Ireland and the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs [Defra] in the rest of the UK.
"Stena Line has a close working relationship with both Dard and Defra and is working on a number of collaborative measures with the authorities to help eradicate this illegal practice."
She added: "Stena is determined to take action where it can and to send the clear message that illegal puppy dealers are not welcome on our services."
A spokesman for the Scottish SPCA, which is leading Operation Delphin, said: "The puppy trade is a huge business and it is unacceptable that puppies are coming in to the UK via Scotland. Our new initiative will mean that dealers will no longer be able to use Cairnryan."
While figures do not exist on the number of puppies trafficked into Cairnryan, it is believed that as many as 40,000 are being farmed and trafficked into the UK from Ireland each year.
The Scottish SPCA spokesman added: "It's a huge problem. Ireland is the warehouse and the gateway - unfortunately - is often through the port of Belfast, then into Scotland and onto the rest of the UK."
The BBC investigation tracked the puppy supply chain from source to sale, filming the conditions inside puppy farms filled with dogs bound for the UK market.
The programme also revealed the existence of so-called "show-bitches" - adult female dogs that were being provided by puppy farmers in Ireland along with litters of pups.
The bitch would then be passed off by unscrupulous Scottish puppy sellers as their own family pet.
It has led to wider calls for a clampdown on the puppy trade.