Man At Centre Of One Of Ireland's Largest Ever Puppy Farm Rescue Jailed For Three Years

  • 22/02/2019

A man who pleaded guilty to animal cruelty in one of largest puppy farm rescues ever was sentenced to three years in prison, while his wife was given a suspended sentence.

James and Jennifer Kavanagh, the parents of five children, from Raheenleigh, Myshall, Co Carlow had pleaded guilty in October 2018 to 30 charges each having initially faced 240 charges apiece.

Mr Kavanagh was convicted under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 of causing or permitting animal cruelty contrary to section 12 and failing to protect the welfare of an animal contrary to section 11 at Carlow Circuit Criminal Court.

James Kavanagh pictured being taken into custody after being sentenced to three years in prison for animal cruelty at Carlow Court. Picture Dylan Vaughan.

Mrs Kavanagh, who claimed to have solely dealt with a separate business known as, Canine Ireland, pleaded guilty to permitting animal cruelty and failing to protect the welfare of an animal of the same Act of which she received a 12 month suspended sentence.

In passing judgement Judge John McCourt said: “Words fail me in to describe the photographs shown in this court. This is the most extraordinary cases I have ever dealt with. It is extraordinary to find that a man coming from farming stock (should do something like this) and become involved in such a crime. You allowed yourself and farm to become a dumping ground for animals from others.

“The scene meeting the ISPCA and gardai on that day was something like a biblical (account) I’m taking into account his early guilty plea, his co-operation with authorities, have saved the court service time and expense.

“I believe that you were not born into this world an evil person to cause harm to animals but you were motivated by profit in a bid to make a living. But I have to impose a judicial sentence of three years and to pay €35,000 in expenses incurred by the ISPCA.”

Mr Kavanagh was banned from keeping animals for the rest of his life. He made no reaction up sentencing.

Judge McCourt said of Mrs Kavangh, who broke down upon sentencing said: “I find it difficult to credit that you did not know something was wrong (at the farm). It would not see in removing you from your children so I’m imposing a 12-month suspended sentence and you are not allowed to have dogs for 15 years. You are not a bad person.”

Judge McCourt slammed the use of social media by some members of the public. “There is a growing number of anonymous keyboard warriors who are spreading half-truths, misinformation and involve bullying tactics. They will undermine the rule of law itself. This does not suit any purpose.”

The couple faced sentences of up to five years imprisonment and fines of up to €250,000 or both under the 2013 Act.

Following sentencing, the judge had to call for order in the court as animal welfare activists cheered and clapped his decision.

The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA) worked tirelessly to rescue 340 dogs and 11 horses from the premises over the subsequent nine days with the assistance of its affiliated member organisations and other rescue organisations.

The dogs removed included Cocker Spaniels, Shih Tzus, Bichons, Terriers, Retrievers, Chihuahuas, Pugs, Labradors, Beagles, Pomeranians, Rottweilers, Salukis, German Shepherds, Siberian Huskies, Lurchers and numerous other breeds.

The case was initiated after the ISPCA after Welfare Inspectors and gardai carried out a joint raid of the premises on April 14, 2015.

Carlow County Council and the Department of Agriculture were called in and the local authority served the breeder with the first ever closure notice under the Dog Breeding Establishment Act 2010.

The scale of the rescue is the largest the ISPCA had ever carried out. Garda Caitriona Dennehy from Carlow Garda Station gave evidence in the court of attending the premises of Mr Kavanagh with a search warrant. There she found numerous dead animals, including dogs, sheep and carcasses of dead horses.

Mr Kavanagh was cautioned twice by Gda Dennehy and on the second occasion, a number of questions were put to him.

“He was asked did he own the animals, where did he get them, did he have the correct documentation, did they have passports, were they microchipped and where were the dogs destined for?” she explained

“He replied, I don’t know, I’m saying nothing, I’m not saying nothing. I can look after the dog like.” He claimed that he was holding the dogs which were due to be transported to the UK to rescue centres.

Gda Dennehy told the court that Mr Kavanagh agreed to the removal of all living animals from his premises. She also recounted that Department of Agriculture Veterinary Inspector John Cushen had to euthanise all the horses including mares, fillies and geldings, due to them being too weak and malnourished to survive.

Prosecution Counsel Mr Conor O’Doherty SC told the court that Gda Dennehy had noted that the animals had to, “live in absolute squalor” in several pens, sheds and barns both on Mr Kavanagh’s property and that of Sheila Kavanagh his sister.

“Many had no water, were living in stalls full of faeces, were feeding off dead horses and dogs, many dogs were living in cages with one another not giving them any room, there was no ventilation, with many infected with lice and worms.

“The vets on site also pointed out that the condition of the dogs and dead horses posed serious public health concerns and transmittable diseases. They also informed the ISPCA and gardai that there were more animals on the property than what was permitted under the Dog Breeders Establishment Act.

“Department Veterinary Inspector Cushen attended the farm on several days after gardai, the ISPCA and Co Council officials entered the premises. He found the horses to have a deteriorating and very bad condition. Three horses then had to be euthanised. All of the animal carcasses were subsequently removed from the property.

The court was shown 10-minute long graphic footage of the animals found on the farm by Gda Dennehy with many in the public gallery taking audible gasps, with some breaking down in tears and having to leave upon the dogs seen to be eating horse carcasses.

Prosecution Counsel further told the court that Mr and Mrs Kavanagh were both arrested on July 27, 2015, and each interviewed three times.

A statement from Gda Dennehy and read out to court by Mr O’Connor said: “Mr Kavanagh admitted that he was not a registered puppy farm, but was a licensed dog breeding establishment and was cleared to run in by Carlow Co Council in 2014. The defendant did not agree that the animals were in a bad condition but some could be better looked after.

“Mr Kavanagh said he contacted the ‘knacker’s yard’ every week to remove animals. This was denied by Ned Deane who said he had only been on the farm three times since the Foot and Mouth outbreak in March 2001. But when called to remove the carcasses from Mr Kavanagh’s land after the raid by authorities he took two and a half tonnes weight of dead animals away.”

“The defendant also claimed that he and his sister were licensed by the Department of Agriculture and Carlow Co Council to run the establishment and that he was never paid for any of the dogs or horses with his expenses only catered for.”

“When Mrs Kavanagh, was interviewed she said she was only responsible for the administration, registering of animals and feeding them, while her husband looked after breeding. She denied seeing any dead dogs or other animals when providing them with feed. Her name was not on the breeding licence owned by that of her husband and sister-in-law.”

Four dogs and three horses were subsequently euthanised.

The court heard that some of the puppies were only a few-days-old and over 20 female dogs were nursing or heavily pregnant. The dogs were suffering from untreated injuries, chronic skin, eye and teeth problems, and many had infected paws from living in urine sodden straw. Many of dogs had heavily matted fur which needed to be completely clipped.

Most of the animals were transported to the charity’s National Animal Centre in Longford, some were brought to their Equine Rescue Centre in Cork, and others were transferred to welfare groups across the country who offered their assistance.

In cross-examination by Defence Counsel Colman Cody SC, it was put to Gda Dennehy that Mr Kavanagh “did not impede authorities” gaining access to his property and that the defendant,” could not keep up with looking after the animals and that his wife was having heart troubles.”

Mr Cody informed the court that Mrs Kavanagh was the subject of online abuse and harassment of a vulgar nature as too were some of her children. It was also claimed that some social media postings said: “Mr Kavanagh should have his head cut off and someone should get a gun and he should be shot.”

It was also heard that Mrs Kavanagh had nothing to do with the breeding of the animals and that the “dogs had become too much for her husband and that he was doing his best.”

Defence Counsel said that harassment, the shining of lights at their home during nighttime and having their computers hacked has continued over the years since the raid. As a result, Mrs Kavanagh and her mother-in-law were affected badly from the stress of the raid and court case and that a heart condition was exacerbated.

The court was also told by Mr Cody that a TV3 broadcast crew were also on the scene when the raid was being carried out which then was made into a documentary and shown prior to any court hearing.

In addressing Judge McCourt Mr Cody said: “My client is remorseful for what occurred and that he knows and accepts the severe consequences. The reality this (case) is grim and inexcusable. He is extremely chastened. This is a case of animal neglect and borderline cruelty.

“He (Mr Kavanagh) was reckless and negligent but he has a number of health issues he was trying to deal with such as excess drinking, has high blood pressure and is suffering from depression as a consequence of the case. The introduction of animal passports in 2014 all became too much for him when dealing with relevant authorities.

“The trial by media and social media has had a huge emotional and psychological impact not only him but on his children, aged from 19 to 12 years of age.”

The court was also told that Mr Kavanagh had several previous convictions for attempting to make false pretences, the furnishing of false documentation, attempting to defraud the Department of Agriculture of £16,000 old Irish punts in 2001 and of drink driving.

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