James Kavanagh (48) pleaded guilty to 30 counts of causing or allowing animal cruelty at his property at Raheenleigh, Myshall, Co Carlow in April 2015.
Carlow Circuit Court heard that the charges related to 63 animals.
Gardaí and animal welfare officers found a number of dead dogs and horses, as well as dogs feedings on the carcasses of horses, when they inspected Kavanagh’s dog breeding premises at Myshall.
The court heard that 340 dogs and 11 horses were removed from Kavanagh’s property after the inspection. Four horses and 20 dogs had to be euthanised due to their condition.
He was sentenced to three years imprisonment and ordered to pay €35,000 towards costs incurred by the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA) by Judge James McCourt on 22 February last.
His wife, Jennifer Kavanagh, was given a wholly suspended 12 months sentence on the same occasion after she admitted 30 counts of allowing animal cruelty.
Opening an appeal against sentence today, Kavanagh’s barrister, Colman Cody SC, accepted that it was a serious case of neglect but there were no “overt acts of physical cruelty”.
Cody said Kavanagh had a dog breeder’s license from Carlow County Council but claimed he “wasn’t breeding dogs”.
He claimed Kavanagh’s premises had been “mischaracterised” by the media as a puppy farm but it was “nothing of the sort”.
Justice Patrick McCarthy said the claim that Kavanagh was not breeding dogs seemed “incompatible” with an objective view of footage from his premises, filmed by the ISPCA, which was played in court.
It was accepted that 114 puppies were found on his premises but Kavanagh claimed he “wasn’t aware some of the dogs were pregnant”.
Cody said dog breeding had been Kavanagh’s previous business but the transportation of dogs was subsequently “generating more money for him”.
He said legislative changes in recent years had required that all dogs in Ireland obtain “puppy passports” which involved a cost to owners. He said “the market had become flooded” and people were “offloading dogs” onto Kavanagh because they didn’t want to pay for puppy passports.
Cody said Kavanagh’s premises became “a dumping ground for all these animals” and a “holding premises” which Kavanagh allowed get out of hand.
The court heard that Kavanagh was being paid €40 – €50 depending on the breed of dog he transported and that charitable organisations, mostly in the UK, covered the cost of transport.
President of the Court of Appeal Justice George Birmingham said the issue was being presented as if changes in the legislation, concerning puppy passports, had caused problems for Kavanagh “but in truth it seems the changes in the legislation created a bonanza for him”.
Cody said it was not a fair characterisation. He said a lot of people were “complicit in this”.
One of the judges commented that Kavanagh “wasn’t obliged to take them (the animals) in”.
“If you’re in the business of transporting dogs, the more dogs you can get your hands on the better,” Justice Birmingham said, adding that Kavanagh had been looking to bring street dogs in from Romania.
Cody said the sentencing judge was obliged to have regard to all of the background circumstances.
He said Kavanagh, and his family, had been subjected to the “most vitriolic campaign of hate and abuse online”. He said people were threatening to burn Kavanagh’s house down and to do violence to his family. “Even before he’s brought to court, he’s already suffered.”
‘He regretted that he was caught’
Cody said Kavanagh was the sole breadwinner in the family and not a man who lived a lavish lifestyle.
He said his client had been left with “shame and stigma” from adverse publicity.
He said Kavanagh had lost his business to which Justice Patrick McCarthy added: “It was a criminal business; he hadn’t paid a penny in tax.”