An undercover officer from the RSPCA has been presented with an award for her incredible work smashing a ring making £35,000 selling sick and dying puppies.

For more than 100 years, the RSPCA Honours have been given to recognise people and organisations who’ve helped us in our goal to end cruelty, protect animals from abuse and further our knowledge of animal welfare.

Inspector Kat Thorburn, part of the RSPCA’s special operations unit, was presented with the David Millard award for her work investigating a puppy ring in Greater Manchester which duped people into buying dogs which they claimed were home bred with pedigree papers.

In fact thousands of puppies were bred by large scale breeders in Ireland and Eastern Europe and shipped to England for sale. Many of them were ill and some sadly died within hours or days of being bought by their new owners.

RSPCA Chief Executive Jeremy Cooper said: “We are incredibly proud of Kat Thorburn and the team who pioneered a new way to investigate organised gangs of criminals who are making thousands of pounds trading in sick and dying puppies.

“Thanks to the hard work, determination and tenacious attitude of Kat who drove this investigation we’ve sent a clear message out to irresponsible puppy traders that they will be held accountable.

“Kat’s work has also helped us raise vital awareness of our campaign to #ScrapThePuppyTrade calling for tougher regulation around the selling of dogs which has been supported by more than 60,000 people.”

Previous attempts to investigate had stalled because of the difficulty of proving the the dogs were suffering when they were in the hands of the sellers.

So Inspector Thorburn took on the huge task of collating dozens of complaints, tracking down a large number people who had bought puppies and taking witness statements from them.

The damning statements, together with surveillance of gang members provided enough suspicion for magistrates to grant a warrant allowing police and RSPCA Officers to raid premises linked to the puppy selling ring.

The raids on several different properties revealed vital evidence of a very sophisticated organised fraud. The gang rented several houses so buyers thought they were getting a puppy bred in a loving family homes.

If buyers asked to see the puppy’s mother they were told she was on a walk or at the vets. The gang had several of mobile phones labelled with different breeds of dogs so they knew what dogs to talk about if people rang in response to adverts.

They faked glossy packs with bogus pedigree papers and other documents to fool unsuspecting buyers who thought they were dealing with a responsible breeder. They even gave out free insurance with each puppy along with veterinary first vaccination cards to try and give the puppies validity.

Thanks to Inspector Thorburn’s thorough investigation and determination more than 180 puppies were seized from the gang and there were a series of court cases where members of the ring were jailed and banned from keeping animals.

Kat said: “I sat in so many people’s front room while they were devastated and crying and telling me how they were tricked into buying sick and dying puppies.

“These were not stupid, gullible members of the public. These were everyday normal people like you and I, including police officers, teachers, professional, hard working people who had been conned out of hundreds of pounds by an organised gang of criminals who had absolutely no regard for the puppies they were trading or the people they were selling them to.

“This gang knew they were selling sick puppies, some of which had deadly diseases. Some of the diseases were zoonotic which means they can spread to their owners, but they just didn’t care. All they cared about was making as much money as possible.

“These cases took over my entire workload for a long time as it was extremely time consuming. I was horrified by what we discovered, dead puppies in the footwell of a car, one in the boot of another, thrown in the wheeley bin like rubbish and even one dead puppy in a crate along with a live one standing over it.

“I dread to think about the awful conditions the mothers of these puppies are being kept in somewhere, they are producing litter after litter of poor quality, unhealthy puppies which are carrying all of these highly contagious parasites, diseases and bacteria. Let alone the risk of other diseases such as rabies.

“It had been very difficult for us to prosecute puppy dealers previously but this new approach has worked and can hopefully be used to tackle more of these unscrupulous dealers in future.”

The David Millard award for special investigations is given in memory of the North of England’s regional superintendent who passed away in in September 2009, aged 61, after almost 37 years with the society.

The RSPCA Honours ceremony was held on Saturday 18 June at The Law Society in London which was especially appropriate as 2016 marks the 10th anniversary of the Animal Welfare Act. Since it’s introduction the RSPCA has helped more than 150,000 cats and dogs.

This year 19 people who had gone the extra mile for animals were awarded with RSPCA Honours including:

Two men who saved a much-loved cat from a house fire

A police officer who worked tirelessly to save 33 dogs from squalid conditions

An American woman who has improved the lives of millions of farm animals with an assurance scheme

An undercover RSPCA inspector who helped crack an illegal puppy selling ring making £35,000-a-week

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