Two puppy farmers who bred and sold sick dogs to families in Greater Manchester have been spared jail.
A court heard this week that Betty Burton, 35, and Jeff McDonagh, 38, conned unsuspecting members of the public out of an estimated £250,000 – with many of the dogs including Cavapoos, French Bulldogs, and Cocker Spaniels dying a short time after being sold.
It was revealed that out of the 42 puppies sold by the pair, fifteen tragically died, and all required veterinary treatment for different illnesses and health problems.
Following a trial at Shrewsbury Crown Court in February 2020, the pair from Telford, Shropshire, were found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud, and they also pleaded guilty to animal welfare offences including causing unnecessary suffering to a certain animal, and failing to meet the needs of animals.
But both were spared jail for their evil crimes, with McDonagh said to be suffering from mental health issues.
The RSPCA’s Special Operations Unit, which is a specialist team that investigates serious and organised animal crime, launched an investigation in 2017 after reports were received from people who had bought sick puppies in the Greater Manchester area.
The adverts for the puppies had all appeared on the Pets4Homes website.
Kirsty Withnall – RSPCA SOU officer, who led the investigation – said: “All of the adverts suggested that the puppies were the offspring of a family pet, had been born in the home, and socialised with the family.
“We spoke to 11 people in connection with the first address – linked to Burton – that came to our attention [as] all of the buyers had been directed to a public phone box to call when they arrived to see the puppies.
“One person refused to buy the puppy when it didn’t resemble the dog she’d been sent a photo of, wasn’t with its mother and appeared scared and whimpering.
“Others bought cockapoos, cavapoos, dachshunds and pomeranians.”
A second Manchester address was then used and officers spoke to six members of the public who had bought puppies from the property – which is linked to both Burton and McDonagh.
Of these six dogs, three died.
Then, from 25 October 2017, the operation expanded to a third Manchester property and five properties across Telford, which were again, all linked to Burton and McDonagh, with Beagles, French Bulldogs, Cavapoos, Dachshunds, Cocker Spaniels, and Cavaliers all sold.
“These sellers were incredibly professional and clever,” Ms Withnall added.
“They sold puppies from one address and moved onto the next before arousing suspicion. They used different names in adverts and on paperwork, different numbers and false postcodes which were either completely made up or were linked to local fast-food restaurants.
“Vaccination cards were falsified with Tippex so they could be re-used and buyers were misled about the source, breed, age and health of the puppies they were buying.”
The court heard that members of the public also raised concerns about a property in Telford.
A warrant was executed by West Mercia Police in November 2019, and 55 dogs and puppies were removed from the property on welfare grounds, with a further 26 puppies born in RSPCA care, bringing the total number of dogs to 81.
The court heard that the dogs were being kept in inappropriate, dirty conditions, with some being underweight and having health problems such as skin issues and untreated eye conditions.
Analysis of the online adverts from November 2015 to October 2018 showed that 22 different names were used to advertise 439 puppies, with a total sale value of more than £253,885.
McDonagh was sentenced to two years custody – suspended for 24 months – was also disqualified from owning dogs for life and cannot appeal the ban for five years, and must also undertake a community order including a mental health treatment requirement and 30 days rehabilitation requirement activity days.
Burton was sentenced to six months custody – suspended for 12 months – 30 rehabilitation activity requirements days, and ordered to pay a victim surcharge, as well as being banned from keeping animals for life and can not appeal her disqualification for two years.
The dogs were signed over to the RSPCA in December 2019 and have since all been rehomed.
Featured Image – RSPCA