Operation Pagan

An organised gang making £8,000 a week selling diseased and dying puppies was smashed after one of our biggest investigations into the dog trade.

New puppy owners left devastated 

Puppies found in pod type kennels during an RSPCA investigation © RSPCA

After being purchased, many puppies needed lengthy and expensive veterinary treatment due to their poor health or subsequently died leaving their unsuspecting owners devastated. 

The gang of three couples advertised online offering perfect family pets and loving companions for children - puppies including Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, spaniels, shih tzus, and Yorkshire terriers at up to £650 each.

Members of the gang refused to say where they got their pitiful animals which they sold to animal lovers for hundreds of pounds but leaving them to pick up huge veterinary fees. It is thought they scoured Europe for the young dogs - some of which had just days left to live.

They then faked pedigree documents, health check cards and produced glossy brochures to trick potential buyers into believing they were buying healthy pets.

When the new puppy owners began to find their pets were suffering with serious illnesses, such as parvo virus, complaints began flooding into to us. An investigation was launched by our Special Operations Unit, dubbed Operation Pagan.

Profit over care 

A vet examined the animals on site and confirmed the puppies were not being protected from disease and that they should be taken into possession. Greater Manchester Police seized a total of 39 puppies kept in purpose built UPVC pod type kennels at the rear of the addresses. 

Their water bowls were dry with wood shavings in them, when water was poured into their empty bowls the puppies drank furiously for at least two minutes.

A young Chihuahua puppy was found in a storage box – on handling she felt cold. There was no heat source, food or water available. Police also seized £3,500 in cash along with a step-by-step guide to puppy selling which spelt out how sellers would get £50 commission on each sale.

Sadly, six of the puppies were so sick they had to be euthanaised by a vet. 65 percent were found to have life-threatening, congenital defects.

One buyer revealed how she bought a Cockerpoo puppy only for him to die 13 days later. He was admitted to a veterinary surgery and after some tests they found he had parvo virus. 

Poor Crumpet was put on an intravenous drip and given a plasma transfusion. He had to be fed through a tube in his nose, before he died.

Scheme to trick puppy buyers

Our Chief Inspector Ian Briggs, from our special operations unit, said:

This case is hugely significant.

It shows the lengths some dealers will go to, making it look like the puppies they are selling have been bred in a homely environment.

They produce glossy brochures, health check cards and fancy looking ‘pedigree’ documents that aren’t worth the paper they are written on.

This investigation has shown puppy dealers are becoming increasingly savvy to make their dealings look legitimate.

They rent houses and put a smattering of furniture in them to make it look like a family home, from which they peddle these sick puppies.

On some occasions that we've been told about, adult dogs would be presented under the false pretence that they were the parents of the puppies being sold.

It's organised crime and animal suffering on an almost industrial scale.

In court

The defendants - all from Greater Manchester area - were sentenced after admitting a string of animal welfare offences contrary to the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

The three men were jailed for a total of 50 weeks while the three women in the gang were all given suspended sentences, ordered to carry out community services and pay costs.

All six defendants were disqualified from keeping dogs for the rest of their lives.


  • Investigating officer: RSPCA SOU Inspector Kat Thorburn
  • Defendants: Defendant 1: Male 31, sales representative; Defendant 2: Female 30, unemployed; Defendant 3: male 53, self employed; Defendant 4: male 27, sales representative; Defendant 5: female 28, travel agent; Defendant 6: female 47, care worker.
  • Offences: Animal Welfare Act 2006 s4 & s9
  • Pleas: Guilty
  • Convictions: Thirty
  • Sentence: All disqualified from keeping dogs for life. Defendant 1: 20 weeks’ imprisonment. Defendant 2: 20 weeks’ imprisonment suspended for one year, 300 hours’ unpaid work and £2,000 costs. Defendant 3: 10 weeks’ imprisonment and £3,185 costs. Defendant 4: 20 weeks’ imprisonment. Defendant 5: 20 weeks’ imprisonment suspended for one year, 300 hours’ unpaid work and £2,000 costs. Defendant 6:12 weeks’ imprisonment suspended for one year, 250 hours’ unpaid work and £1,000 costs.
  • Prosecuted by: Wains Solicitors
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