Puppies raised in an alleged "battery farm" have been dying in pet stores, prompting an animal welfare group to seek changes in breeding laws.
Eleven puppies have died in the past few weeks. All are believed to have been supplied by a single large-scale breeder to The Pet Centre stores in Lower Hutt, Porirua and Upper Hutt.
The commercial breeding business in Gladstone Rd, rural Levin, is based in a purpose-built, 200square-metre barn. The Pet Centre sells the puppies for up to $1000 each.
It is understood some of the puppies - which included miniature dachshunds, poodle crosses, pug crosses and a japanese spitz - died from hypoglycaemia and related illnesses because they were too young to be away from their mothers.
Others died from giardia and canine parvovirus - particularly lethal to young puppies.
The Pet Centre co-owner Brian Dee said the deaths were too "emotive an issue" to discuss, and declined to comment further.
The Levin breeder, veterinary nurse Julie Poulton, said yesterday: "Nobody likes it when animals die, and it must be a terrible tragedy for anyone involved.
"I am an experienced and respected breeder with a close working relationship with vets. I meet ‘recommended best practice' according to the Animal Code of Welfare 2010."
Wellington SPCA animal inspector Ben Lakomy confirmed a pet store in Hutt Valley had been visited recently, after a spate of puppy deaths.
"After receiving a call of concern about the puppies that had died at a pet centre in the Hutt, we visited the store. We investigated it."
The store's management was spoken to, but no further action was taken, he said.
The puppies were young, and had not long been away from their mothers. Animal welfare guidelines recommend that puppies under 8 weeks old should not be sold.
"It is concerning that potentially puppies right on the limit of 8 weeks are being sold."
Mr Lakomy would not name the store visited by the SPCA, but The Dominion Post understands it was The Pet Centre in the Harvey Norman Centre in Lower Hutt.
Carolyn Press-McKenzie, of animal welfare charity Huha (Helping You Help Animals), believed Ms Poulton's Levin premises were a "battery farm", serving as a "puppy mill".
This was the worst example of large-scale breeding she had seen.
"When you've got that many animals you can't realistically give each individual the time or the care it really needs to be socialised. It doesn't have that family environment. That's gone and it becomes part of a factory situation.
"It might be cleanish and tidyish, so there's nothing that a local authority or the SPCA could do. But morally, it's heartbreaking.
"It all goes pear-shaped when you want a monetary return on an animal - that's when the animal's welfare starts to get compromised. It's a very cruel and unnecessary business, really."
Ms Poulton's 20m-long breeding barn holds about 100 dogs aged 3 months or older, registered with Horowhenua District Council. But the litters produced do not have to be registered if they are sold before reaching the registration age of 3 months.
Mrs Press-McKenzie said the Huha campaign launched last week - called Stop Breeding Puppies to Death - aimed to tighten laws governing puppy breeding.
"Everything the breeders do is legal . . . they give them water, food and shelter, but we actually want to make them accountable for the animals' welfare."
THIS LOVED PUPPY LIVED ONLY DAYS
Three-year-old Ella Jennings barely had a chance to love her puppy Slinky before he died, just days after she got him.
Mum Crystal McDonald bought the miniature dachshund from The Pet Centre in Lower Hutt in March and took him to their Upper Hutt home. But he wouldn't eat, barely moved and was soon at the vet, where he died.
"He wasn't playing when we bought him. The pet centre said he was just shy. We took him home and had him for about four days and he didn't eat.
"He wouldn't get out of his bed. The only time he would was to come and have a cuddle, that was it."
She took him to the vet and to the pet store, where staff told her he needed to be force-fed.
"Ella liked him heaps. She really enjoyed him. It was going to be a nice inside family dog."
SOLD A PUP?
Puppies need to be robust and resilient enough to survive away from their mothers, Huha founder Carolyn Press-McKenzie says.
She recommends visiting a reputable breeder, where you get a chance to meet the puppies' parents.
The puppy should be part of a normal, interactive family and not caged. It should not be taken from its mother too soon or it may miss out on social lessons it will struggle to pick up later.
It doesn't hurt to leave the puppy with its mother for longer. Large-breed puppies can be rehomed at 8-10 weeks, but smaller breeds may need to be 10-12 weeks before they are strong enough.
- The Dominion Post