Animal welfare campaigners have reacted with disgust after a disgraced vet was spared jail for his role in a £2.5million puppy smuggling ring.
Daniel Doherty pocketed at least £75,000 by providing fake health and vaccination documents for the designer puppies.
The animals had been bred in puppy farms in Ireland but the paperwork gave the impression they came from local loving homes. Many later fell sick and died.
The 49-year-old vet was given a 12-month sentence suspended for a year and ordered to carry out 80 hours of unpaid work after being found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud.
The prosecution at Isleworth crown court followed a three year investigation by the RSPCA following complaints from families whose new puppies became ill.
Among those appalled by the sentence is Yonni Wilson of the group Say No To Pet Shop Pups.
“This is more of an encouragement than a deterrent to other gangs who want to try their hand at puppy fraud,” she said, adding that she now hopes he will at least be struck-off as a vet.
The two ringleaders, Simon O’Donnell, 30, and Thomas Stokes, 26, were each jailed for three years for fraud and animal welfare offences.
Thomas O’Donnell, 29, was given a two year suspended sentence, while Margaret McDonagh, 27, and Mary McDonagh, 29, were given community orders.
“We feel that these penalties are groteseque for gang members who fraudulently made a colossal amount of money and only two got custodial sentences, and those were extremely lenient,” said Ms Wilson, a former managing partner at a vet’s practice.
“The reaction from people who follow our campaign to say no to pet shop puppies is that they feel betrayed and let down.”
The gang was stopped after raids by the RSPCA and Metropolitan Police in which dogs were found crammed into sheds and garages and at one address four dead Yorkshire terrier puppies were discovered in black bin bags in a garden.
RSPCA inspector Kirsty Withnall, who led the investigation, described the crime as “a complex and sophisticated network of organised fraud and cruelty to dogs”.
“Four of the gang members are siblings and, together with their partners, launched this network of puppy sellers and dealers in west London, with Edward and Mary Teresa Stokes later continuing to sell dogs from their new address in Reading, Berkshire, while Thomas Stokes went on to sell again from another property in Feltham," she said.
“This was a complicated and multi-faceted, high volume conspiracy whereby the gang has misrepresented commercial, puppy-farmed dogs imported from abroad as family-bred pets to con members of the public out of money.
“Puppies were illegally imported from southern Ireland before being transported to the defendants’ homes where they were kept in plastic sheds, outbuildings and garages. They were advertised online and sold for between £350 and £650 each.
“The gang were generally dealing with fashionable breeds and designer crossbreeds such as Yorkies, cavapoos and Labradoodles.”
She described how the gang went to great lengths to give the impression that the puppies had been born and raised in loving homes.
The sellers would appear to be caring couples with children, and “stooge” bitches were used to give the appearance of being the mother of the puppies.
A total of 5,097 puppies are know to have been sold over five years, though the RSPCA suspect the true figure could be much higher.
All of the dogs that were seized as part of the investigations went into foster homes and were later signed over to the RSPCA to be rehomed.
*The campaign Say No To Pet Shop Pups focuses on Linton Pet Store, a pet shop at a garden centre in Theresa May’s Maidenhead constituency that sells puppies. It previously used Daniel Doherty as its vet.
Yonni Wilson is now calling on it to contact all customers who bought puppies during this period to warn them that their pet’s immune system might be compromised by inadequate treatment by Doherty.
Store owner Jean Pierre Caruana previously said that he knew nothing about Doherty’s fraud, describing it as “A really big shock”, adding: “His case is not connected to us, we are doing nothing wrong, we have a licence from the council.”
Say No To Pet Shop Pups supports our Lucy’s Law campaign which is calling for an immediate ban on the sale of puppies by pet shops and other third parties who are not the breeders. The only exception would be rescue centres.
The hugely popular grassroots campaign has attracted more than 144,000 signatures to the official e-petition and was earlier this week debated in parliament .
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