More than £1 million of tax has been recovered in Scotland following a major crackdown on the country’s rogue puppy farmers.
In 2015, HM Revenue and Customs established a taskforce designed to flush out the undeclared income of illegal dog breeders.
Although the puppy trade north of the border is worth around £13 million a year, a significant proportion of the animals bought and sold are bred illegally.
The massive tax haul includes a £435,000 bill for one breeder in the west of Scotland.
The illegal industry takes advantage of selling through social media or small advertising websites.
It is believed that only 24% of Scottish people purchase their puppies from approved breeders and the drive to crack down on the illicit trade was made due to welfare concerns for the animals.
About one in four puppies bought online die before their fifth birthday and one in three get sick or die in their first year.
HMRC has recovered a total of £5,393,035 in lost taxes across the UK from 257 separate cases since the taskforce was formed in 2015.
A number of arrests have also been made.
The head of the Scottish SPCA’s special investigations unit, who cannot be named due to the nature of his role, said many of the young dogs are smuggled from Ireland.
He said: “Unfortunately, the puppy trade is big business with thousands of dogs being brought into the country each year, particularly from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
“It is a multi-million-pound industry and many of these poor dogs are bred on large-scale puppy farms, with little to no regard for their welfare.
“We have seized 27 puppies smuggled from Ireland at Cairnryan Port in Dumfries and Galloway as part of Operation Delphin, which is dedicated to ending the illegal puppy-dealing industry and bringing those who prioritise profits over animal welfare to justice.
“It is a barbaric trade which commands huge profit from selling puppies.
“Often these puppies are kept in appalling conditions and this leads to injuries, health issues and behavioural problems.
“Some are so far gone that they pass away from the complications due to the way they are bred and kept.”