During the lockdown, demand for pooches rose exponentially and as a result so did the price for sought after companions.
However, according to an investigation by BBC NI’s Spotlight programme, this had led to Northern Ireland becoming the gateway for a multi-million pound black market for puppies into Great Britain.
In the show, animal protection societies claimed illicit trade sees tens of thousands of dogs moved from the Republic of Ireland through Northern Ireland every year.
One dealer from Coalisland, Co Tyrone, who sold sick and dying puppies in Scotland was confronted by reporter Mandy McAuley .
According the investigative report, the increased demand had led to many dealers ship puppies out of the Republic before they reach 15 weeks, when it is legally safe to do so.
The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) told the programme that members of three large extended family networks in Northern Ireland are responsible for much of the traffic in puppies across the Irish Sea.
SDLP Policing Board member Dolores Kelly has called for a crackdown on the puppy black-market in Northern Ireland.
The Upper Bann MLA said: “We need to see a crackdown on the people involved in this illicit enterprise on both sides of the border.
“These revelations were highly distressing for animal lovers across the North, myself included, and people cannot continue to be allowed to make huge profits from this black-market trade, safe in the knowledge that they face minimal penalties.”
Mrs Kelly urged anyone who wants a dog to only do so through reputable channels with references or to visit your local animal shelter.
“If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. A drop in business combined with tougher punishment for those involved would do much to discourage those involved”, said she.
The MLA said that the wide-scale movement of animals across the border only highlighted the need for the SDLP’s all-island animal cruelty register which would ban offenders from keeping or selling animals, to be progressed.
She added: “I would encourage everyone to sign our petition and keep the pressure on the DAERA and Justice Ministers to introduce the register as soon as possible. These revelations show the importance of the register to protect animals and those buying them.”