Illegal puppy farmer to be sentenced next Tuesday

AN 86-year-old man, who pleaded guilty in Sale Magistrates’ Court last week to all 155 charges relating to the mistreatment of dogs on an illegal puppy farm, will be back in court next Tuesday for sentencing.

The charges include aggravated cruelty relating to dead puppies, found when Wellington Shire council officers raided a rural property in July.

Charges were brought under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, the Domestic Animals Act, Local Government Act and Wellington Shire Local Law.

Some charges were ‘rolled up’ for ease of sentencing, but no charges were dropped by the prosecuting agency, Wellington Shire Council.

At Sale Magistrates’ Court last Wednesday, Bertam Cooke appeared before magistrate Rodney Higgins, who heard that during the raid, council officers found 39 Cavoodles locked up in small, dark, damp and dirty dog trailers on a leased bush block, believed to be in Munro.

The court heard Cooke accepted he had four “relevant” prior convictions, but took issue with the charges of aggravated cruelty relating to dead puppies found during the July raid.

Autopsies showed two of the puppies had died of neglect, while a third was too badly decomposed to determine the cause of death.

The council’s prosecuting solicitor, Basil Stafford, told the court it was a “puppy farm of the worst kind”, that warranted “a period of imprisonment”.

But Cooke’s defence solicitor said his client had not committed any “terrible” abuse of the dogs, and cared for the animals, which vets found to be generally “in good body condition”.

He said Cooke, who had co-operated with officers, was from “a different generation”, and the world had “moved on” in terms of animal welfare and expectations.

The solicitor said there was no maliciousness on Cooke’s part, as he did not believe his dogs were suffering.

But Mr Higgins said Cooke’s prior convictions for similar offences made it clear “he’s deliberately broken the law by continuing the business, so that has to be denounced”.

The magistrate ordered Cooke back to court on December 11 for sentencing over the 155 charges relating to the Munro puppy farm — after he had undergone a community corrections order assessment.

A Wellington Shire Council spokesperson flagged that council would also seek a dog banning order of 10 years against Cooke and monitoring order which would allow council authorised officers to inspect his residence or property at any time for possible offences.

“If these sanctions are indeed brought against Cooke, we understand that they will be the toughest handed down to a puppy farmer since the introduction of the puppy farm legislation,” the spokesperson said.

The Gippsland Times incorrectly reported on Friday that Cooke had pleaded guilty to just 25 charges.