An animal welfare group is urging people to avoid buying puppies over the internet after 44 pure-bred dogs, some just three weeks old, were rescued in a raid on a trader in Kwun Tong suspected of illegally selling dogs online. The puppies are all too young to have been separated from their mothers and as a result many are sick and in the care of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Sandy Macalister, SPCA executive director, said the puppies were evidence of the cruel trade that was feeding the growing demand in Hong Kong for pedigree pet dogs. 'We continue to be appalled and sickened by the cruelty behind the pet trade, both the breeding and the internet trading,' Macalister said. 'Unfortunately, there is a lot of it out there. These people treat the dogs like a commodity. To them it is like stocking a warehouse with toys or T-shirts.' Selling dogs online in Hong Kong was illegal, Macalister said. He warned that people should not confuse local and mainland websites offering dogs for sale with those of reputable overseas breeders. 'The sad thing is that people think buying through the internet is better than buying from a pet shop, but they don't see what is going on behind the internet trade,' Macalister said. 'This cruel trade survives because of the huge demand. But if the public was aware of what they were supporting, I am sure they would not want to be a part of it.' The number of pet dogs has boomed in recent years. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department says there are now about 175,000 licensed dogs in Hong Kong, up from 125,000 in 2005. However, with just two licensed breeders in the city, illegal breeding and selling had become a lucrative business, Macalister said. The 44 puppies were rescued in a sting on Friday in which an officer from the department posed as a prospective buyer to contact the trader, who had advertised the puppies on the internet. A man and a woman were detained for questioning. Before the raid, the SPCA had been looking for new owners for almost 150 dogs rescued from a suspected illegal breeding centre. So far, it has found new homes for about 50 dogs, helped by an appeal last week. The dogs were discovered in September living outside, cooped up in filthy, cramped metal cages in Lau Fau Shan in the New Territories. They range in age from two to around eight and include poodles, chihuahuas, corgis, huskies, daschunds, schnauzers and bulldogs 'There are some wonderful dogs and we would urge anyone thinking of getting a dog to come and take a look at these dogs,' Macalister said. Anyone interested in adopting any of the 100 remaining dogs should contact the SPCA on 2232 5529.