A new campaign has been launched in a bid to ensure potential puppy owners in Scotland avoid illegal dealers which have increased in number during the pandemic.

The #LookBeyondCute campaign comes after the Scottish SPCA launched 78 investigations into reports of puppy farming last month alone, with staff fearing Christmas will fuel demand.

Many illegally bred puppies are sold online through social media or small ad sites, according to the animal welfare charity, who also suggest two in five (40%) pups bought online die before their fifth birthday and 15% get sick or die in the first year.

The Scottish Government’s Rural Affairs Minister Mairi Gougeon helped launched the campaign on Wednesday which focuses on three key “Pup Checks”.

She said: “During the current Covid-19 pandemic, regrettably we have seen an increase in illegal puppy sales and trading.

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“We need to ensure that everyone understands the consequences of purchasing an illegally bred puppy and follow the important steps to buy their dog safely and responsibly.

“Puppy farms breed misery and public demand is fuelling the trade, which is being facilitated through online adverts and sellers.

“Last year’s campaign saw calls about suspected puppy farms to the Scottish SPCA’s animal helpline almost double compared to the two months prior.

“Now more than ever, we are urging people to do their research properly and to look for the signs that they are being tricked into buying an illegally bred puppy.

“There are key checks that can help ensure you are buying safely – these include meeting the puppy’s mother with her litter when restrictions allow, making enquiries about the breeder and ensuring all the correct paperwork is in place.”

The campaign also stresses an understanding of the long-term responsibility and commitment which comes with owning a dog.

Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn also spoke of his concern over the increase in demand during lockdown and subsequent restrictions to combat coronavirus.

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He said: “This has seen a rise in not only the extortionate prices of puppies but also the number of puppies becoming sick or dying because they have been badly bred.

“Calls to our helpline regarding puppy farms and unwell pups almost doubled from September to October this year.

“We are concerned this will continue to rise due to people being sold unwell pups to satisfy public demand. These poor animals are being exploited purely for profit and scant regard is given to their welfare.

“We are concerned that sick puppies will be shipped into the country from Ireland to meet the Christmas rush. The only way for this despicable trade to stop is for public demand to stop.

“Don’t be rushed in to parting with money or putting down a deposit on a pup you haven’t met. You should insist on seeing the puppy with their mum.

“If you don’t see mum or any paperwork then you need to walk away and report your concerns to the Scottish SPCA as these are signs a pup has come from a low welfare puppy farm.”

Rachel Dick, from Glasgow, saw firsthand the prevalence of illegally-bred puppies online when she was looking to welcome a puppy into her family this month. 

She said:"It's clear from looking online at puppy ads that people are breeding them purely for profit, some with zero previous experience."

"For us, it was incredibly important to find a breeder who knew what they were doing, was dedicated to the welfare of the puppies and wasn't doing it just for profit."

"It was also important to us that the breeder took an interest in where the puppy was going."

After hours of research, Ms Dick found a reputable breeder and is set to welcome the young working cocker spaniel home when she reaches eight weeks of age.

Ms Dick added: "It's a minefield, but making the right decision is so important, and that takes time."