Pet detectives in Ireland are using counterterrorism technology to shut down illegal puppy mills.
Named Project Capone, the software scans websites that puppies are sold from, tracking down similar images, phone numbers, and addresses to identify puppy farmers, who often use fake names and multiple phone numbers to cover their tracks.
Puppy mills are notoriously incompetent at maintaining animal welfare standards; dogs are often kept in small, cramped enclosures where they are vulnerable to illness, and then forced into breeding cycles.
Software designer, animal lover, and activist Keith Hinde developed the new software – which is similar to that used by the police when investigating cases of child abuse or incidents of terrorism – to stop this cruelty from taking place.
“If you post an ad on a website, we are monitoring, then within about five minutes it will be on our dataset,” he explained to The Times. “We will be able to see how much selling you are involved in.”
The information he uncovers – like the fact that half a million pets were listed for online sale last year – is passed on to UK animal charities such as the Dogs Trust as well as the HM Revenue and Customs, because most of the illegal puppy mill trade is dealt with cash-in-hand.
Ireland is considered the puppy mill capital of Europe thanks to its relaxed laws on breeding, according to the Times. Thanks to Project Capone, there were two raids on illegal puppy mills in Ireland last August, rescuing 125 dogs in total. Hinde has also developed technology to help the Rabbit Welfare Association – which has since been shared with larger animal welfare organizations – and has even set up his own nonprofit organization named Tech4Pets.
Over in the UK, in the past year, more legislation has passed in order to crack down on puppy mills. In December, “Lucy’s Law” – named after a dog saved in a puppy mill rescue – came into effect, banning third-party puppy and kitten sales across the country. California and Ohio in the U.S. also introduced tougher laws on puppy mills in 2018.
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