Two people have been disqualified from keeping dogs for life for a string of animal welfare offences following an RSPCA investigation into the underground puppy trade.
Inspectors from the animal welfare charity and police found a wheelbarrow of dead and dying dogs at a farm in Bradford after launching an investigation following calls from members of the public who had bought puppies which became ill.
On Friday (18 November), a man and a woman appeared at Leeds Magistrates’ Court for sentencing in connection with a number of animal welfare offences relating to puppies and dogs seized from the property, in Tyersal Lane, following the warrant in September last year.
Farm manager John Wilcock (DoB: 09/07/80) of Sticker Lane, Bradford, admitted five offences while Bernadette Nunney (DoB: 04/11/91), of Tyersal Lane, Bradford, pleaded not guilty to six offences. She was found guilty on 20 October following a four-day trial.
Today, the duo were both sentenced to 20 weeks in prison, suspended for 18 months, and were each disqualified from keeping dogs for life.
Nunney was also handed a 12 week curfew order, ordered to complete a 15-day rehabilitation activity, and ordered to pay £500 in costs.
Wilcock was ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid work and a 20-day rehabilitation activity. He was also ordered to pay £100 in costs.
When RSPCA officers and police executed the warrant they came across a wheelbarrow of dead collie puppies. As they filmed the heartbreaking scene for evidence they realised that one of the pups – a black and white female, buried beneath the dead bodies of her littermates – was still alive.
She was rushed to the vets but later died. Post mortems revealed that she and her siblings had died from parvovirus.
Nunney and Wilcock were accused of causing unnecessary suffering to the seven puppies, as well as a number of other offences [full details below]. They also faced three further allegations of causing unnecessary suffering to a total of 10 dogs, and two offences of failing to meet the needs of 30 dogs.
RSPCA inspector Emma Ellis, who investigated, said: “What I saw that day will stay with me forever.
“The sight of the live puppy buried within the pile of dead puppies was heartbreaking. There was nothing we could do to save her. The way those puppies were left to die highlights how these people simply see them as commodities which I find totally unacceptable.
“Dozens of dogs were being kept at the address in stables and kennel blocks. Many had no food, no water, no bedding, and all of them were living in their own filth.”
Inspectors found 43 dogs – including collies, spaniels, bichon frises, Labradors, beagles, Chihuahuas, and some terrier-cross types – most of which were seized by the police and placed into the RSPCA’s care.
RSPCA special operations unit chief inspector (CI) Ian Briggs, said: “There is a growing demand for certain breeds of dogs – such as chihuahuas, spaniels and bichon frises – and genuine, regulated breeders simply cannot meet demand.
“Unregulated puppy breeders and dealers are plugging this gap in the market by producing dogs on a commercial scale and putting money and profits ahead of the health, welfare and happiness of the dogs.
“When our investigations bring us to places such as this farm, we often find dogs living in squalid, sub-standard conditions meaning the unsuspecting public often end up parting with hundreds and hundreds of pounds for puppies who have behavioural issues or health problems throughout their lives. In some of the worst cases, their beloved family pet dies in their arms just days after bringing them home.”
The case came to court following an investigation by the RSPCA as well as a sting by journalists from BBC’s Watchdog. During their investigation, reporters bought a dog (pictured above) from the Bradford farm which was then rehomed with animal behaviourist Carrie Evans.
“Gizmo was exceptionally frightened and very poorly,” Carrie said. “He was grossly underweight, had worms, had an intestinal infection, and infected ears.
“Due to bad breeding, Gizmo has horrendous deformities in his legs and feet, and his feet can sometimes rotate backwards. He also has an undershot jaw.”
CI Briggs added: “When our investigations bring us to places such as this farm, we often find dogs living in squalid, sub-standard conditions.
“Unsuspecting members of the public end up parting with hundreds and hundreds of pounds for puppies who have behavioural issues because they’ve not been properly socialised, or health problems, due to poor conditions and no veterinary treatment. In some of the worst cases, their beloved family pet dies in their arms just days after bringing them home.”
The RSPCA has launched a campaign to tackle the underground market in puppies following a 122% increase in the number of calls the charity’s cruelty line receives on the issue. The Scrap the Puppy Trade campaign is calling on the Government in England to introduce stricter legislation around the breeding and selling of dogs, and also seeks to help the public in how to responsibly buy a puppy.