Dozens of puppies have been rescued at Belfast Port in a crackdown against illegal animal trafficking ahead of Christmas.
In total, 29 pups were seized in the early hours of Thursday when discrepancies were discovered in paperwork provided by their transporter.
The crackdown is the latest in a significant series of seizures at Northern Ireland’s ports and comes in a period where puppies are in high demand as presents for Christmas.
The animals are now in the process of being rehomed, authorities confirmed.
The sting was part of the Paws for Thought initiative, where dogs and pups travelling through the ports are subject to welfare and transport checks prior to boarding.
A spokesperson for Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) said it had zero tolerance for dog trafficking.
They added demand for a puppy is high at this time of year, which fuels the trafficking of low-welfare pups through ports to sell them at an inflated price in Great Britain.
The DAERA spokesperson said innocent animal lovers were often tricked into believing these puppies had come from a reputable breeder, but they actually came from illegal breeding establishments known as "puppy farms".
They said: “The department with the support from partner agencies, including Belfast Harbour Police and Belfast City Council, is leading the battle to stamp out this abhorrent trade.
"The rescue of these 29 pups demonstrates the effectiveness of the multi-agency approach in targeting those involved.
“We would also like to extend our thanks to our portal staff for their diligence and swift action in this case.”
The Paws for Thought Group added: “We wish to reiterate our message that people think long and hard before deciding to get an animal this Christmas.
“Prospective dog owners should check the guidance available online before thinking about getting a pup. If you must buy a pup, only use a licensed breeder.”