Peterborough City Council has welcomed the sentencing of a trader who raked in thousands of pounds by illegally importing and selling sick and falsely described puppies.
Appearing in front of Peterborough Crown Court, Aidas Gostautas was sentenced to 34 months in prison after pleading guilty to 14 cases relating to animal health and welfare.
His Honour Judge Gareth Hawkesworth placed an order for Gostautas to serve a minimum term of 17 months due to the severity and persistent nature of his offending.
The case is believed to be the biggest case of illegal puppy trading that the UK has seen.
Peter Gell, head of regulatory services at Peterborough City Council said: "We welcome the severity of this sentence as it recognises the cruel, persistent nature of offending, particularly as the court found Gostautas had conducted a substantial business, at a substantial profit, for a substantial period of time."
The city council's trading standards team established that more than 100 misleading advertisements offering dogs as young as eight weeks for sale had been placed by Gostautas on internet sites such as Gumtree, and Pets4Homes. The dogs were offered for sale for between £650 and £1,000.
Trading standards' investigation identified and confirmed that more than 120 dogs sold were imported directly from Lithuania, which has been designated by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) as high risk for the transmission of rabies.
Gostautus led customers to believe that they were bred in the UK from a family pet.
More than 20 different pay-as-you-go mobile telephone numbers and email accounts were used to sell the dogs, many of which were placed into quarantine, as there were discrepancies between their passports, rabies vaccinations and dogs' ages. Some new owners faced bills of up to £1,000.
In the last six months Gostautus has appeared in court four times and pleaded guilty to 14 offences under various regulatory acts. Gostautas was previously prosecuted by Kent Trading Standards regarding similar offences in 2011.
Goutautas has made of tens of thousands of pounds from the illegal operation.
Councillor Nigel North, the city council’s cabinet member for communities, said: "The trading standards team has done a phenomenal job in bringing this criminal to justice.
"The team is there to protect innocent people from exactly this kind of fraud. This criminal's customers lost much more than their money - in some cases they lost a longed-for pet as well."
Peter Gell added: "The practice of illegally importing animals not only increases the risk of spreading disease to the UK, but it also raises serious welfare concerns for the animals, as well as upset to the new owners.
"In many instances results in additional costs for the unsuspecting purchaser, from quarantine to vet bills.
"Unfortunately this isn't an isolated case and there are various unsavoury practices that currently exist within the industry. Anyone thinking of buying a puppy should take steps to ensure that they are buying from a legal and trustworthy seller."
Steps recommended by trading standards for those buying a puppy are:
1. Be suspicious if the seller can not show you the puppy with its mother and litter mates. View the puppy where it was bred.
2. Get as much information about where the puppy has come from and beware if the seller is from outside the UK.
3. If the puppy has been vaccinated ask to see all the documentation. This must clearly state the veterinary practice where this was carried out. Be suspicious if the address of the veterinary practice is outside the UK.
4. If the seller informs you that the puppy has been brought in from another country it should have a pet passport and be a minimum of 15 weeks of age.
5. Never agree to have the puppy delivered to your home address or to meet the seller to collect the puppy.
If you would like to contact someone about suspected illegal puppy trading please call Citizens Advice on 03454 04 05 06 who will pass the details to the relevant local authority or alternatively email firstname.lastname@example.org.