Fifty five dogs – including breeding bitches and puppies – have been seized by Durham Constabulary and placed in RSPCA care after warrants were executed at six addresses this morning (Thursday 6 February).


Six people – five men and one woman – were arrested at the addresses in Shotton Colliery and Haswell and taken to a police station to be interviewed. Arrangements have been made for a seventh person, a woman, to attend voluntarily later today.


The joint, intelligence-led, operation involved 70 police officers and 26 RSPCA officers.


RSPCA chief inspector Mark Gent said: “The RSPCA has had lots of calls from people concerned about poorly puppies being sold in the area, some of which have gone on to die as a result, and the conditions those puppies were living in.


“Forty three adult dogs, some of them breeding bitches, and 12 puppies, some of them very, very, young, have been seized this morning and are now being checked over by vets.


“Where there is evidence that animals are suffering we will take appropriate action against those responsible.”


The puppies seized include popular breeds like Jack Russells, Chihuahuas and Jack Russell/Chihuahua crosses, known as ‘Jackhuahuas’. They have not been signed over and remain the property of the owners, so new homes are not being sought at present.


Durham Constabulary acting inspector Jim Peel said: “Today’s operation is the result of two months planning by ourselves and the RSPCA.


“Our concerns were not only for the welfare of the dogs but the welfare of buyers, who bought these animals in good faith only to discover they had underlying medical issues or missing documentation. This has caused financial problems for the unsuspecting buyers and in many cases personal distress.


“Durham Constabulary has an ongoing commitment to tackle organised crime, which can come in many forms. And the resources we deployed today demonstrates how seriously we take this issue, which has been a major cause of public concern.”


The warrants were carried out as part of Operation Sledgehammer, Durham Constabulary’s ongoing campaign to disrupt and deter organised criminals in County Durham and Darlington, but the RSPCA are leading the investigation so anyone with any information should call the RSPCA cruelty line on 0300 1234 999.


RSPCA chief inspector Gent added: “There are two messages here, one to the breeders and very importantly one to members of the public. These people wouldn’t be in business if it wasn’t for people buying from them. Please, rehome a dog from an animal welfare organisation where possible but if you must buy a puppy make sure you see the puppy with its mother, in the place where it has been living. Never, ever, arrange to meet the breeder in places like car parks.”


More information about buying a puppy can be found at