Opinion: Jane Fallon Griffin on why it is up to both the courts and ordinary citizens to reduce the numbers of illegal puppy farmers in Ireland.

We are a nation of dog lovers, and every park, beach and second or third Irish garden host our furry four-legged friends. The cutest puppies front greeting cards, there are doggy clothing lines, our canine companions have even gone viral as Instagram famous stars in their own right.

And yet while everyone seems to love them, the booming Irish puppy farming industry suggests that we care about them only on this superficial level that goes no deeper.

Everyone proudly says that their dog is "like a member of the family" and yes, that is probably true but what about the actual biological family that puppy comes from?

Imagine where the mother of the dog that lovingly greets you after work, makes you laugh when it seems impossible and sleeps at the end of your bed is now. Did you see her when you went to bring your pup home? If not there is no telling what kind of condition she could be in now as she churns out litter after litter.

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Your own beloved dog may only have narrowly avoided a similar fate by virtue of an adequate number of bitches already present on the farm or a need for quick profit.

In February, the first puppy farmer was jailed for keeping animals in such gruesome conditions that they were described in court as "biblical". Some 340 dogs across 23 of the most popular breeds and some horses were found in squalid conditions on the farm.

Food and water were so scarce that starving animals fed on carcasses that lay in the yard and 24 of the animals had to be put to sleep.

The problem lies not with the actual breeding of dogs. There are plenty of reputable licensed breeders around the country who really care for the dogs and comply completely with the law. However, there are others who abuse their license or simply never have one to begin with. 

Watch: RTÉ News reports that animals were 'living in absolute squalor' with licensed dog breeder Jim Kavanagh.

It is up to both the courts and ordinary citizens to take steps to reduce the numbers of illegal puppy farmers and those who breeders who abuse their license and their dogs.

Perhaps the most obvious means of targeting these sort of establishments is to hit them at their core and the only reason they run - profit. If we all took an extra bit of time when looking into buying a dog and refused to buy pups that come from suspect homes it would rapidly deplete their output.

The only reason that these people continue to breed dogs in such horrific conditions that cost them so little is because there is demand from the public.

While there are plenty of dogs from hard working shelters that need homes, if you are dead set on a certain breed It is not hard to check if the place you are buying from is reputable.

Many different breed groups have their own Irish association and a good way to ensure that it is legit is to ring that organisation to ask for advice or simply to check if breeders are registered with the Irish kennel club.

If a breeder insists on meeting you in a neutral venue like a car park, does not let you see the mother or the pup with its siblings or is offering pups from many litters at once alarm bells should go off.

Those are some very simple steps to take that could make a big difference to the wellbeing of both future and current generations of Irish dogs.

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Demand transparency from breeders, ask all the questions - if this interaction becomes the norm it sets a standard and stops people who have no regard for animal welfare inflicting themselves on dogs.

If you are concerned about conditions that someone is breeding pups you should report it to the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

We also need more prosecutions and harsher penalties for those involved in such cruel practices.

The case in Carlow was the first in which a puppy farmer was jailed for his actions and yet his was not the first case where dogs have been found in horrific conditions. We need to come down hard on anyone who mistreats any animal, regardless of species.

Allowing someone who inflicts pain and suffering to carry on with their lives with a slap on the wrist is a poor reflection of our society as a whole. Offenders won't be put off because of one solitary prosecution to someone they probably never even heard of. It needs to be frequent and hitting close to home.

Harsher punishments and jail sentences must become commonplace if we are ever to rid ourselves of our reputation as the puppy farmer capital of Europe.

If it’s not commonplace to heavily punish offenders, they will take the chance.  

Like anything else you may not think your one small decision not to take home a dog from questionable circumstances makes no difference, but it is the sum of our single actions that makes the overall impact.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ.