Cruel dog breeders are suspected of the "shocking" dumping 15 sick and unwanted puppies in a crate by a roadside without food or water as the lockdown boom for pets fades.
RSPCA investigators suspect that the dogs are 'lockdown puppies,' dogs popular with owners spending more time at home during the pandemic.
The whimpering puppies – all cockapoo-types – from two different litters were discovered by a passer-by huddled in a plastic crate at Pitsea, Essex, in hot temperatures.
They were immediately taken to a vet, but one pup died and three were so poorly that they later had to be put down.
The remaining 11 puppies are poorly with diarrhoea and are being closely monitored. Today the RSPCA said it was investigating the dumping of the dogs.
RSPCA inspector Chloe Frost said: "It is so shocking that such a large number of puppies were dumped, especially as they were all so poorly.
"They had all been dumped in a dirty crate with no food or water and in such hot temperatures too.
"We're so thankful that they were found as now the remaining pups have a chance of survival.
"We don't know at this stage if they came from a puppy farm and then abandoned when it was realised how poorly they were.
"We also can't rule out that they are the result of a demand for 'lockdown' puppies – and we are concerned about what will happen to more 'lockdown puppies' over the coming months."
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Anyone who has any information about the puppies should contact the RSPCA's appeals line in complete confidence on 0300 123 8018.
There was a huge surge in demand for dogs during lockdown as families made the most of spending more time at home.
Now, the RSPCA is concerned about a potential increase in abandoned puppies over the coming months as a result of puppies bought during the pandemic.
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