Between all the various pet-finding websites and social media platforms, there are a lot of ads for puppies online. However, it’s also become a lot easier for con artists and animal abusers to scam potential adopters.
When people respond to certain ads for puppies, they may not realize who they’re really buying the dog from. Many of these puppies sold are kept in horrible, unsanitary conditions, which means a family’s new puppy may arrive with an illness or other undisclosed condition. It’s also, of course, terrible for these dogs to be treated this way just so the sellers can profit.
One of those groups of swindlers recently faced justice for their cruel and selfish actions. The international puppy ring brought in over £300,000 (around U.S.D. $416,000) while causing both dog and human misery. In August 0f 2021, the ringleaders and associates were sentenced for their crimes.
An Investigation Exposes Horrors
Between June and November 2019, the RSPCA and Trading Standards received several complaints about puppies sold from different addresses in the Milton Keynes area. Police later raided a traveler’s site in Milton Keynes, where they seized 54 dogs and brought them to the RSPCA for treatment.
RSPCA Investigator Michelle Hare described what they found:
“The trailers had been split into pens and all of the dogs were being kept in poor conditions. The kennels were dirty and smelt strongly of ammonia, while one of the pens was full of hazards including nails sticking out, sharp metal mesh and wires hanging down. There were holes in the walls and floor that appeared to have been caused by the dogs trying to chew out of the space.”
As a result of their poor treatment, many of the dogs had untreated health problems and conditions including fur loss, ear infections, and dental disease. Horrifyingly, some dogs died before even making it to their new home.
Both Dogs And People Suffer
In her witness statement in court, Hare sympathized with the smuggled dogs and their hopeful swindled adopters:
“Dogs were kept in poor conditions in lorry containers and the backs of vans and were often riddled with health problems but were sold to innocent families who were hoping to add a dog to their homes but were, instead, left with staggering vet bills, dogs with complicated needs and, for some, the heartache of losing their puppy.”
Reportedly, the gang would smuggle several dogs from Ireland into the UK every day. Prosecutor Hazel Stevens explained the effects of this large-scale scam in court:
“Many people purchasing a puppy, naturally became excited and invested time and emotion as well as money into their puppy. They chose a name and planned the arrival of their new family member and were left devastated when the puppy was sick and in some cases died.”
The Story Of Barnaby
Kimberley Duffy, a victim of the ring, had adopted a Shih Tzu puppy named Barnaby. She surprised her family with the pup, she explained while sharing her story in court.
“[My partner] was extremely excited and surprised as he was an early Christmas present. When the children came home that evening, they too were extremely excited and we all bonded with him instantly.”
Suddenly after arriving at his new home, Barnaby fell ill. Duffy and her partner took him to the vet, and after the visit stayed up all night with him feeding and giving him fluids and medication. Eventually, after hours of this, they fell asleep themselves, until:
“At 7:15am on Thursday, October 24, 2019, we were awoken by the traumatic cries of our 11-year-old son who had been into our room and found Barnaby no longer breathing.”
Shocked and panicked, they tried everything they could to awaken the puppy. Nothing worked.
“Myself and my partner tried in vain to revive him while our children looked on traumatised and heartbroken. At 7:34am we decided to stop trying. We both broke down in tears, absolutely devastated that our little fur baby hadn’t survived despite our desperate tireless efforts to do all we could.”
Between vet bills and the costs of purchasing Barnaby, the family lost around £1,300. Plus, no matter the outcome of the trial, Duffy told the court that the family won’t fully recover from the horror they experienced.
“We feel utter anger, frustration and are furious at the lies we were told by the seller, the sheer neglect and trauma Barnaby suffered at the hands of these vile people. The events that took place that morning, the screams and the devastation from our children and the loss and heartbreak will forever haunt us and is irreparable.”
To start, Judge Sheridan banned each of the 13 defendants from owning or controlling any animals for the next 10 years. Following a two-day sentencing hearing at Aylesbury Crown Court, the Judge concluded:
“Not one of the defendants in this case should ever be given a license to breed animals.”
The defendants’ sentences varied depending on the severity of their crimes and the extent of their involvement in the scam. Ten of the defendants pleaded guilty to fraud and nine of those ten also admitted animal welfare offenses. Seven of them were given immediate jail terms totaling more than 18 years, which makes for the longest combined prison sentences an RSPCA investigation has ever seen.
Prosecutor Stevens added:
“The use of these animals as a commodity without care for their welfare and for the effect on the purchasers and children in their family, is something that the RSPCA, other animal welfare charities and the Government have been working very hard to stop.”
Following the trial and sentencing, the RSPCA was awarded £100,357.63 so they can care for and re-home these poor dogs. Judge Sheridan also wants the victims of the ring to be reimbursed.
“I will try to reimburse them so they can buy a puppy from a legitimate breeder if that is what they want to do. Some of them I suspect will never want an animal again because of the misery they have been through.”
Be Wary Of Puppy Buying Scams
As many of these puppies were purchased through the website Pets4Homes, the Judge also warned about the site. Pets4Homes responded later that they have upped their security measures to prevent crimes like these:
“The events of this case occurred before Pets4Homes came under new management, as well as the introduction of security checks including enhanced ID verification, a dedicated 24 hour Trust & Safety team reviewing adverts, and a deposit scheme which only transfers payment once a pet buyer is satisfied.”