A human trafficking “slave” claims he was lured to the UK with the promise of a job, then forced to work on a puppy farm.
Police and the SPCA raided the property and found squalid conditions, with dogs crammed into cupboards and puppies missing their eyes and limbs.
It is feared a boom in demand for pedigree puppies during the coronavirus lockdown is fuelling a surging illicit dog-breeding trade.
The worker alleged to the Daily Record he was forced to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week on the Perthshire, Scotland farm– all with no payment.
When he demanded wages, he claims the farm owner physically attacked him and told him: “I will f***ing murder you.”
The worker said: “I was a slave. I was exhausted all the time. I was depressed and I was treated like I was worthless. And I was scared.
“If people in Scotland think modern slavery doesn’t happen here, they really need to open their eyes. It happened to me and it was terrible.”
The Scottish SPCA launched a major investigation last November after seizing more than 60 dogs from the farm, which is not being named to protect ongoing investigations.
‘John’ (not his real name) claims he was left so cash-strapped he felt he had no choice but to stay at the farm, where he alleges he was exploited.
He said: “I felt trapped and wanted to get away but if the owner threw me out, I knew I had nothing and nowhere to go. I was scared of staying and scared of leaving.”
John, a European migrant, claims he was duped into coming to Scotland from London by a business associate of the puppy farm owner.
He claims the associate hired him to work security in shops and music festivals in London but he was only paid for the retail work, not the gigs.
John alleges demands for owed wages were met with excuses and he fell so far behind with his rent, his London landlord told him he would be evicted.
The associate then offered him a job at the puppy farm in Scotland, promising him wages and full board.
John said: “He asked me if I liked dogs and I said, ‘of course’. I was about to be homeless and the job seemed like a good opportunity. I had no idea what I was getting in to.”
He was driven from London to the farm in August 2019 and said the conditions of the animals were initially not as bad as they were to become.
John said: “The owner was nice to me at first but that was all part of his play to get me to stay there and work. Then he changed and became arrogant and aggressive. By then I was trapped.”
Staff turnover was so high about 20 workers, both British and foreign, came and went in a year, with some only staying a day.
John said: “They couldn’t stand the conditions and the bullying from the owner. Eventually it was just me, left on my own.”
John got up at 6am and worked until 10pm every day. When he asked for days off, he was told there was too much work to do.
He describes a relentless schedule, claiming he had to feed and water about 60 dogs, keep their kennels clean and carry out repairs to building outhouses single-handedly.
The farm stocked Alsatians, Belgian Malinois and bulldogs and there was a constant demand. He said: “The owner didn’t care about the dogs, he only cared about money.
“About 15 dogs were crammed into a run meant for nothing like that number. He told me to build more outbuildings but I couldn’t keep up. I had to clean out the kennels, tend to the dogs and build. It was too much for one person.
“He criticised me constantly and blamed me for everything. He’d scream down the phone and tell me to work harder.”
Some of the dogs were living in outdoor kennels without natural light or flooring, while others were drenched through having been completely exposed to wind and rain.
When the Scottish SPCA visited, they found pregnant dogs and three litters running around in their own faeces.
John said he was left on his own to deal with three bitches delivering in one day as well as tackling a relentless schedule of tasks.
He claims his living conditions and food were basic but acceptable and sometimes the owner would buy him clothes if he asked.
John added: “I had no money of my own. When I asked him, he said he couldn’t afford to pay me but he would when he could.”
The owner was regularly away but would come back to the farm to meet customers.
Neighbours complained of a constant stream of customers arriving, despite lockdown restrictions.
Customers were told to stay at the farm gate under the guise of Covid restrictions – but really it was to hide the terrible conditions the dogs were being kept in, John claims.
He said he was also told to keep out of sight if any customers came by. The owner advertised the dogs on classified adverts website Gumtree and had plenty of customers willing to pay upwards of £1000 per dog.
The Record viewed CCTV footage which shows John confronting the owner about not getting paid.
The man takes his sweatshirt off and challenges John to a fight but he refuses.
The owner shouts, “We are going to have a f***ing fight” then grabs John’s arm as he struggles shouting ,“no, no” and, “leave me alone”.
There is a scuffle until John manages to push the farm owner away. The man then threatens to “f***ing murder” him.
John said: “After that, I was really scared. He told me I owed him money for rent and food and that was coming off the wages I never got.”
When John arrived in the UK in 2013, he was ambitious and hoped to ease the financial burden on his struggling family back home.
He had worked in UK restaurants and retail before training as a security guard, while also securing a degree.
The Scottish SPCA raid came following a tip-off and John was found by police after 14 months of hell at the farm.
The whistleblower had responded to a Gumtree advert for an “in-house dog and cat carer and cleaner”.
The ad offered £1,000 a month to live on the site but when she saw the living conditions, she fled the puppy farm and alerted the authorities. When police rescued John, they helped him access support.
He said: “All I wanted to do was get out of there but I didn’t know how. I was relieved when the police found me and helped me leave.”
He has since moved to a safe area and has tried to rebuild his life with help from trafficking support organisations.
John said: “I used to have so much confidence. I was an outgoing, happy person but now I don’t want to leave the house.
“I get depressed and need psychological help to get over the trauma. I hate how I was treated.”
More than 60 cats were seized from the suspected puppy farm after being discovered in appalling conditions.
Chief Inspector Graham Binnie, area commander for Perth and Kinross, revealed his concerns about the puppy farm at a briefing to Perth and Kinross Council councillors last week.
He confirmed the joint investigation with the Scottish SPCA involved allegations of “organised criminality” at the farm.
“We did an investigation into some of the people working there, who were suspected to be victims of trafficking,” he said.
Mr Binnie described the operation as “positive” and said: “It was a good bit of disruption to that sort of activity in that area.”
The Scottish SPCA now need to rehouse 100 animals.
Police Scotland said: “Inquiries have been carried out into allegations of human trafficking at a premises in the Perthshire area and a report has been sent to the procurator fiscal.”