AN INVESTIGATION has been launched into claims an illegal puppy farm is selling underweight and ill dogs.

The RSPCA is looking into concerns raised about the business, which operates under the names Oak Tree Puppies and Wickford Pets, and is based in Crays Hill.

More than 3,500 people have signed an online petition calling for the business to be closed down.

However, Stacey Hayward, 33, who runs the business, claims she is innocent and has been subjected to a hate campaign by animal welfare protesters.

A spokesman for the RSPCA said: “We can confirm we have received concerns about an address in Essex which we are looking into. We cannot comment further while investigations are ongoing.”

Posts on social media claim Miss Hayward is selling dogs which are underweight and unwell and have not received the correct vet checks or injections.

She is also accused of not providing the right paperwork to buyers.

Hitting back at the claims, she said: “I’ve got a five and a seven year- old and they have been subjected to racial abuse, and people have even threatened to rape me because of all this.

“Can you imagine getting 40 to 50 calls a night when you are trying to get your children to bed because they’ve got school the next day? I love animals and I would never hurt them.

“Everything I do in my business is scrutinised and regulated by the local authorities. I don’t try to hide anything as it’s all legal and above board.

“These people should be targeting the ones who are underground and not regulated, but I suppose I’m an easy target.”

She insisted no puppies are bred on her premises and she buys them in from sellers across the country.

Basildon Council has confirmed Miss Hayward’s address, Windermere, is covered under a pet shop licence.

The police confirmed they had been contacted by Miss Hayward in relation to claims of harassment and have given her advice, but are not taking the complaint further.

A spokeswoman said: "Police have looked into two matters reported in May but found no offences have been committed."