Plight of 15 terriers trapped in a farm cottage

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Collies chained to a post, labradors cowering in their own filth, a German Shepherd darting back and forth in a cramped pen, half a dozen puppies in a bread basket in total darkness ...

These were some of the distressing scenes in the video footage taken by the RSCPA in recent months at puppy farms in Wales, and shown at a press conference in Westminster yesterday, writes Paul Field.

Rohan Barker has been an RSCPA inspector for seven years. He has seen cockfighting and appalling cruelty to animals but he was still shocked by what he filmed.

In April, he visited the house of an elderly woman who bred Airedale terriers. The woman had 15 terriers on the premises at the end of a dirt track and about the same number of mongrels. Most were in a filthy condition and the house was littered with excrement. In barns, Mr Barker and his colleagues found bitches weaning puppies in cramped pens, covered in mould.

The woman admitted she regularly sold puppies through newspaper advertisements. She claimed she did not need a licence because she did not have more than two bitches for breeding. The RSPCA spotted five.

As in most cases, prosecution did not follow. The RSPCA sends details of visits to local authorities but action is seldom taken. Mr Barker recalls one success in 1994 after he discovered puppies kept in two-foot square boxes, with the lid sealed down. The breeder was found guilty of causing unnecessary suffering and barred from keeping dogs for 10 years.

The story is typical of the trade, perpetuated by unsuspecting dog lovers who would rather meet a dealer in a lay-by and pay pounds 50 less for a pedigree puppy than travel to the farm to check on breeding conditions.

"The problem is the dealers supply the pet shops as well," said Mr Barker. "So the best bet is to go to a farm."

Jacqui Cresswell agrees. She bought an eight-week-old golden retriever last August for pounds 185, and named her Honey. She had responded to a newspaper advertisement and went to kennels in Essex to collect the puppy.

Within a week, Honey was dead, from parvovirus which breaks down the immune system. Honey vomited and suffered diarrhoea, despite veterinary efforts to treat her and 24-hour attention from Mrs Cresswell. "It was a horrific death and she was in such distress," she said.

However, when she telephoned the dealer to demand a refund and reimbursement for pounds 350 in vets fees, she was told she had been sold a healthy puppy.

The kennel owner was licensed to sell puppies in a commercial venture and is still operating. "If you want to buy a puppy I suggest you go to a rescue centre or seek advice about buying direct from a breeder," said Mrs Cresswell.

Since launching a campaign to stamp out puppy farming last October, the National Canine Defence League has been given 2,000 similar stories.