Italy's travelling puppy shows leave a trail of broken hearts      

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The Independent Online

Everybody likes a bargain, especially at Christmas, but thoroughbred puppies on sale at low prices in dog shows moving between northern Italian cities are leaving behind a trail of bitterness.

Everybody likes a bargain, especially at Christmas, but thoroughbred puppies on sale at low prices in dog shows moving between northern Italian cities are leaving behind a trail of bitterness.

A branch of Italy's National Canine Defence League wants the organisers of the shows to be charged, after receiving "more than 20" complaints about the condition of the puppies. Several that appeared to be in good health when sold died within a few days of being handed over to their new owners.

For one woman in the town of Lecco, north of Milan, the painful event happened twice. Marina Ghislanzoni told Libero newspaper that her first puppy, a cocker spaniel called Tino, was a present from friends who had visited the show when it came to the town.

She said that like other buyers, the friends had followed the sellers' directions, waiting by a roundabout under a bridge for the furtive rendezvous. They paid with a cheque for €300 (£207) but were not given a receipt. The puppy was handed over on 7 November to the delight of Mrs Ghislanzoni's eight-year-old daughter.

But 10 days later, after a nightmare of wheezing, diarrhoea and vomiting, little Tino died. The owners managed to hide the puppy's death from their daughter, and her father telephoned to seller to complain. He was assured that the damaged goods would be replaced.

By this time the show had moved to Turin, nearly 200km away, and Mr Ghislanzoni drove there to meet the dealer and get a replacement for Tino.

This second cocker spaniel puppy was even more adorable than the first, but within a couple of days began showing the same symptoms. To avoid another hell like the first one, Mrs Ghislanzoni asked for the advice of a vet, who decided that the the puppy should be put down. The daughter was inconsolable.

Opinion is building that the travelling puppy shows should be stopped. Nadia Masutti, a volunteer with Italy's Anti-Vivisection League who monitored one such show - which had an entry charge of €6 - as it passed through the town of Treviso, reported: "All the animals were treated badly and at least five of them were almost certainly ill, and they were in cages with the others. Most likely they will die. This type of show should be banned."

Italians have been criticised by dog lovers in other countries for abandoning their pets when they go on holiday or when their children tire of them. The success of the puppy shows is another indication that some Italians take the duties of dog ownership less seriously than their counterparts in other European countries.

Millenniumdogs.net, an Italian website for dog lovers, spells out in detail what it says is the ordeal the unfortunate puppies have been through. "These are the so-called 'dogs from the east', bred in countries with economic problems and with little dog-loving culture," the website claims.

"The dealers rear puppies of every breed in improvised kennels to sell in the wealthier countries where the animal is often acquired for reasons of fashion or whim. They are not cared for, fed poorly, confined to the cages where they were born. Some have rickets and behaviour disturbances. They endure very long journeys crammed into lorries.

"Many fall badly ill or die. Frequently their owners abandon them or dump them in kennels."

One organiser of the puppy shows denied all blame. Gianni Proserpi, who works for the firm Eurocani, said the puppies were checked over by vets and all had implanted microchips proving their date and place of birth. He said Eurocani was not responsible for the condition of any of the dogs it sold. "We are only concerned with the show," he said.

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