Heartless puppy farmers who sold sick dogs to desperate families spared jail

Heartless puppy farmers who raised and sold sick dogs avoided jail, although many of their pooches died shortly after the sale.

Betty Burton, 35, and Jeff McDonagh, 38, cheated on pet owners of more than £ 250,000 over three years, the Manchester Evening News reports.

The couple advertised online and moved frequently to avoid being caught by the police.

Two puppy farmers who raised sick dogs and sold them to families in Greater Manchester were spared jail.

Betty Burton, 35, and Jeff McDonagh, 38, cheated unsuspecting members of the public with an estimated £ 250,000.

A court heard that many of the dogs, including cavapoos, French bulldogs and cocker spaniels, died shortly after the sale.

Of the 42 puppies the couple sold, fifteen tragically died and all required veterinary treatment for various illnesses and health problems.

The court heard that the dogs were being kept in inappropriately dirty conditions

The two of Telford, Shropshire, were found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud following a trial in Shrewsbury Crown Court in February 2020.

She also pleaded guilty to animal welfare offenses, including causing unnecessary suffering to a particular animal and failing to meet the needs of the animals.

Both Burton and McDonagh were spared jail for their crimes, with McDonagh reportedly suffering from mental health problems.

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The RSPCA’s Special Operations Unit – a team of specialists investigating serious and organized animal crime – opened an investigation in 2017 after receiving reports from people buying sick puppies in the Greater Manchester area.

The ads for the puppies had all appeared on the Pets4Homes website.

Kirsty Withnall, the RSPCA SOU officer who led the investigation, said, “All the indications indicated that the pups were the offspring of a family pet, were born at home and were socialized with the family.

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“We spoke to 11 people about the first address – in connection with Burton – that we became aware of.

“All shoppers were directed to a public phone box to phone when they arrived to see the pups.

“One person refused to buy the puppy because it didn’t look like the dog they’d gotten a photo of, wasn’t with its mother, and looked scared and whimpering. Others bought cockapoos, cavapoos, dachshunds and pomeranians.”

A second address in Manchester was then used, and officials spoke to six members of the public who had purchased puppies from the property, which is linked to both Burton and McDonagh.

Dogs in dirty conditions at a puppy farm in the Greater Manchester area

Sick puppies were sold to humble families in Greater Manchester

Of these six dogs, three died.

As of October 25, 2017, operations expanded to a third property in Manchester and five properties across Telford, all connected to Burton and McDonagh.

Beagles, French bulldogs, cavapoos, dachshunds, cocker spaniels and cavaliers were sold.

Some payments were sent to bank accounts in McDonagh’s name while phone numbers were connected to Burton.

“These salespeople were incredibly professional and clever,” added Ms. Withnall.

“They sold puppies from one address and switched to the next before arousing suspicion. They used different names in ads and papers, different numbers, and fake zip codes that were either entirely made up or associated with local fast-food restaurants.

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“Vaccination cards were forged at Tippex so they could be reused, and shoppers were misled about the origin, breed, age and health of the puppies they bought.”

The court heard citizens also raised concerns about a property in Telford and the condition of the dog ownership.

In November 2019, West Mercia Police carried out an arrest warrant and 55 dogs and puppies were removed from the property for welfare reasons.

Another 26 puppies were born in RSPCA foster care, bringing the total number of dogs to 81.

The court heard that the dogs were being kept in inappropriately dirty conditions.

Some of the animals were underweight and had health problems such as skin problems and untreated eye diseases.

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Burton and McDonagh arrived at the property and were subsequently arrested.

Cash, cell phones and papers were confiscated from the property, and officers were also able to identify several items that matched items used on pictures of puppies from the online ads.

Analysis of the ads from November 2015 to October 2018 found that 22 different names were used to advertise 439 puppies with a total sales value of more than £ 253,885.

RSPCA officials took testimony from members of the public who bought 42 puppies for a total of £ 21,580.

Fifteen of these pups died and all of the dogs required veterinary treatment for various illnesses and health problems.

McDonagh – who was identified by all 11 participating witnesses in a video identification parade – was sentenced to two years in prison and suspended for 24 months.

He has also been disqualified from owning dogs for life and cannot appeal the ban for five years.

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He must also carry out a communal arrangement that includes an obligation to provide psychological treatment and 30 days of rehabilitation for activity days.

The court heard that McDonagh has been mentally ill since the trial and remains seriously ill and in need of treatment, but treatment would be unlikely while in detention.

Burton was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, requested 30 days of rehabilitation activity, and given a victim bonus.

In addition, she was banned from keeping animals for life and cannot contest her disqualification for two years.

The dogs were handed over to the RSPCA in December 2019 and have all been re-housed since then.

A third person is expected to be convicted of crimes related to this case later this year.

After the conviction, Ms. Withnall said: “Burton and McDonagh were the brains behind this sophisticated operation which at its peak had eight addresses in Manchester and Telford.

“They used different names and different phone numbers to forge paperwork, create ads that wouldn’t arouse suspicion, and scam potential buyers out of hundreds of pounds for puppies they claimed were popular family pets.”

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