Council officials in Aberdeenshire have used their powers to go undercover and carry out surveillance to target illegal puppy farms.
The local authority confirmed that it had deployed staff to approach a puppy seller in the Buchan area early last year.
It is thought to be one of the first times that a Scottish council has used the powers to target illegal dog breeding.
Introduced in 2000, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act governs the use of such tactics.
Under the law, public authorities are allowed to install hidden cameras to bug or photograph someone in a public place, use undercover agents and secretly follow people who are suspected of breaking the law.
They are most often used to target antisocial behaviour or retailers selling tobacco or alcohol to underage youths, but have also been deployed against drug dealers and in anti-terror investigations.
The council’s puppy farm operation in Aberdeenshire did not identify any criminal offences this time, but campaigners last night hailed it as a new weapon in the battle against the cruel trade.
Aberdeenshire East MSP Gillian Martin said: “The council’s willingness to use the powers available to them under the Investigatory Powers Act, coupled with the significant increases in penalties proposed in the Animal Welfare Bill currently being scrutinised in the Scottish Parliament should be a wake-up call to those who think they are flying under the radar with illegal puppy farms.
“Public awareness campaigns on the heart-breaking situations that could lie behind buying a puppy without proper research is important too, particularly at this time of year when advantage is being taken of people who want a puppy to join their family.
“My advice is to re-home a dog from a shelter or only buy a puppy from a breeder that comes recommended to you by someone you know and trust. A combination of councils, government, SSPCA and law enforcement working together plus this increased public awareness will end this dreadful trade.”
An animal welfare charity report has previously claimed that there are more puppy farms operating in Aberdeenshire than anywhere else in the north of Scotland.
Earlier this year, two people were convicted of failing to provide proper care and treatment to almost 100 dogs, as well as rabbits and ferrets, at East Mains of Ardlogie, near Fyvie.
A joint police and SSPCA raid in November 2017 found dogs in squalid conditions.
Last night, Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn said: “Unfortunately, the puppy trade in Scotland is a multimillion pound industry and many dogs are bred on large scale puppy farms or brought into the country by dealers with little to no regard for their welfare.
“The enormity of the industry is due to profit and public demand. The quickest way to halt the supply of illegally bred pups is for public demand to fall.
“If you go to a reputable breeder, you may be waiting over 24 months for a puppy. When people find out about the length of wait, they turn to the internet where they can get a puppy immediately.
“This is how the illegal dealers make their money, by being able to match this demand.”