Puppy breeder banned from owning dogs, fined almost $13,000 over illegal farm in Victoria
Bert Cooke leaves the Sale Magistrates’ Court in November after indicating he would plead guilty to 28 charges. (ABC Gippsland: Beth Gibson)
A Gippsland man who operated an illegal puppy farm has been banned from owning dogs for 10 years and ordered to pay almost $13,000 back to the local council.
Bertram Cooke, 85, pleaded guilty to 28 charges, including cruelty to animals and neglect causing unreasonable pain and suffering after 39 cavoodles were found in greyhound trailers at Munro earlier this year.
Two one-week-old puppies were found dead at the site north-east of Sale.
Cooke was ordered to compensate the Wellington Shire Council for vet and housing costs to the tune of $12,987.95, and must also serve 150 hours of community service.
He must also submit to monitoring to ensure he does not have any dogs in his care.
Sale Magistrate Rodney Higgins said that if it were not for Cooke’s age, “a custodial sentence may have been in order”.
Cooke’s is one of the first prosecutions related to illegal puppy farming since the Victorian Puppy Farms and Pet Shops Act came into effect in July.
Dead puppies were found in makeshift dog trailers hidden beneath camouflage netting on a remote bush block near Munro, north-east of Sale. (Supplied: Wellington Shire Council)
Designer dogs found starving in trailers
In July this year, Wellington Shire Council officers found 39 cavoodles dogs and puppies locked up in dark, crowded and dirty greyhound trailers on a leased bush block east of Sale, in central Gippsland.
The dogs were found in dark, crowded and dirty greyhound trailers. (ABC Gippsland: Beth Gibson)
Officers swooped after receiving a tip-off about the trailers, which were hidden with camouflage netting.
The property had no running water or electricity.
The dogs were taken to an Animal Aid Victoria shelter at Fulham near Sale, where they were treated for health problems.
Many have since been adopted out to new homes.
More than 150 original charges
One hundred and fifty-five original charges were condensed into 28 at the Sale Magistrates’ Court in November.
Prosecuting solicitor Basil Stafford said rolling the charges up was for administrative purposes and did not decrease the severity of Cooke’s offences.
The charges against Cooke relate to the Domestic Animals Act 1996 and the Prevention of Animal Cruelty Act 1986.
They included two counts of cruelty to animals over the two puppies found dead on the property.
Cooke was also charged with operating an unregistered animal business, crowding and confining animals in a way that was likely to cause “unreasonable pain and suffering”, and failing to provide animals with proper veterinary care.
Almost all the dogs had serious worm and flea infestations, and some had other problems including heart murmurs, dental disease, umbilical hernias and knee problems.
Oscar’s Law activists confront Cooke outside the Sale Magistrates’ Court in November, 2018. (ABC News: Beth Gibson)
Sentence ‘not harsh enough’, activist says
Debra Tranter, founder of animal welfare organisation Oscar’s Law, attended all of Cooke’s court hearings and says she is disappointed with the sentence.
“A $12,000 fine is the equivalent of the sale of one litter of puppies,” Ms Tranter said, adding that she believes Cooke may have made “hundreds of thousands of dollars” from the illegal farm.
“It’s time magistrates got in touch with community concerns and realised that it’s not okay to abuse and neglect animals.”
In July this year, weeks before Cooke was originally charged, the Domestic Animals Act was amended so that pet shops can no longer sell dogs or cats from breeders.
The number of fertile dogs that commercial breeders can have will also be capped at 10 by 2020.
Ms Tranter said that while the new laws did not affect this case, they have helped improve the monitoring of potential offenders.
“So now with the new leg we have stronger monitoring and enforcement power … and we’ve also got a more educated public,” she said.
“The puppy farmers are finding it harder and harder to hide.”