Dog breeders expressed pride in their puppies
By Martin Cassidy
BBC NI rural affairs correspondent
Dog breeders in Northern Ireland have called for proper regulation of their industry and for the Department of Agriculture to ban people convicted of cruelty from keeping animals.
Canine Breeders of Ireland, which represents 600 breeders, said government vets should be made responsible for animal welfare and given powers to deal with unscrupulous puppy farms.
Giving evidence to the assembly's agriculture committee, the canine group said 'puppy farm' was a derogatory term which the public associated with unregulated breeders who treated dogs cruelly.
The group said its members were proud of the pups they produced and that their premises were open to inspection by councils.
Committee members were invited to inspect a breeding establishment in County Fermanagh where pups are reared for the market in Britain.
Owner David Hamilton said it was time government recognised the financial contribution made by the dog breeding industry to the local economy.
"This is a licensed breeding establishment and I think people need to understand that a puppy farm is somewhere where animals are treated badly, where there are welfare issues and where they are exploited.
Puppies are reared for the GB market at a County Fermanagh establishment
"That is certainly not the case here, and I'd say that is not the case in the vast majority of licensed breeding establishments."
The breeders group said the introduction of new animal welfare legislation provided an opportunity to place the responsibility for dog welfare with Department of Agriculture vets.
The committee asked whether breeders were contributing to welfare problems by producing so many pups and thereby adding to the number of strays councils have to deal with.
More than a third of all the UK's stray dogs are in Northern Ireland, where 7,400 animals were recovered by wardens last year.
The breeders group said pups produced by its members were high-value animals which were mostly exported to Britain and that few, if any, end up in dog shelters.