Man responsible for deaths of puppies banned from owning animals
By Court reporter | 8th June 2021
A 25-year-old man who crammed 44 puppies into small cages in a van during a hot day last August - leading to the deaths of twenty of them - has been banned from owning, keeping or transporting animals for two years.
Cheltenham Magistrates were told Monday (June 7) that Patrick Stokes 25, of Adventure Lane, West Rainton, Durham, was stopped on the M6 as he drove to Stoke-on-Trent from Cheltenham on August 22 last year with the puppies and two adult dogs in his vehicle.
When police stopped the unventilated van they found the puppies to be malnourished and dehydrated, the court was told.
The 44 puppies were packed into three crates measuring 4ft by 3ft. They included 10 Beagles, seven Border Collies, three Chihuahuas and one Shih Tzu along with numerous other crossbreeds. They all needed immediate emergency veterinary care.
Prosecutor Graham Dono said Gloucestershire Police had been alerted to the plight of the puppies by a phone call from a furious member of the public in Cheltenham who said had seen a litter of puppies being transferred from one van to another in Stancombe Lane, Charlton Kings, Cheltenham, by two men whom she thought were acting suspiciously.
"The woman heard loud whimpering noises coming from the two vans and saw that the two men were going between the vehicles," said Mr Dono.
"She was concerned by what she was witnessing and challenged them. She told them she was taking photographs and would be reporting it to the police.
"Stokes told the woman he was transferring the dogs from one van to the other as it was 'too hot for them' - but she thought this was strange as the second van that he was putting the dogs into was smaller and was not ventilated.
"She counted that there were over 20 puppies in the larger vehicle but was unable to calculate how many had been transferred to the small van.
"The police alerted all forces around the country and within an hour Stokes had been stopped on the M6.
"When Stokes was arrested he was asked when the puppies had last been fed and watered. Stokes responded that it was when they had arrived from Ireland."
The court heard that the officers immediately became concerned for the welfare of the animals. All the puppies and the two dogs were taken to Birmingham's Northside Veterinary Clinic - where one puppy was found to be in a coma - or to the Brookend Kennels in Malvern. Twenty of the puppies was later found to have contracted the canine version of coronavirus.
Stokes told the police that he was not going to sell the puppies as, he claimed, they were all for nephews and nieces of his six siblings. He maintained that there was plenty of space for the dogs in the crates in the van.
Michael Levy, defending, said that if Stokes had known the dogs were in a distressed state he would not have taken possession of them.
He emphasised that Stokes had employed 'a proper firm' to transport the animals from Belfast and that the exchange was made in Charlton Kings just 45 minutes before he was stopped by the police.
The court was told that Stokes had paid £2,500 to buy the animals and had paid £2,400 to All Star Pet Transport to transport them by ferry from Belfast to Charlton Kings.
Mr Levy said: "Stokes had purchased the largest cages he could get to transport the puppies and in the van were two barrels of water and a supply of dog food.
"If he had noticed that any of the puppies had been unwell he would have immediately contacted a vet for treatment.
"He was not doing this commercially but as a gesture towards his siblings and their children.
"Stokes is a man of good character who has never troubled the courts before. There is no way he could have been aware of the dog's condition when they were delivered.
"The puppies were from a legitimate source, a licensed dealer in Northern Ireland, and they had all been microchipped. He also employed a legitimate licensed pet transporter.
"The dogs were being watered when the concerned member of the public challenged him. It was his intention to stop at the motorway services to water the animals en-route.
"The two adult dogs were his own pets. He has always looked after animals, having had responsibility for horses, donkeys, mules, dogs and cats and many other animals over the years.
"The shock of him appearing at court on these charges has made sure he will not be doing anything similar in the future. I believe he should be punished by means of a conditional discharge."
Stokes pleaded guilty to not ensuring that the needs of 44 puppies in his care were met and also to a charge of causing the death of 20 them while travelling between Beeches Road, Charlton Kings, and Junction 1 of the M5 on August 22nd 2020.
Sue Alexander, chair of the magistrates, told Stokes: "There has been a lot of debate over this case. However, it has been established that you turned up to transfer the 44 puppies in a van that was not fit for purpose and of an inadequate size.
"It was the middle of the day in August. To do that was clearly ill-advised and in our view incompetent and lacked forward planning. It doesn't matter that you only had the puppies for a short period of time.
"it was only a matter of chance that you were spotted by a member of the public. In reality it was your intention to drive on further to Stoke.
"Having put 15 puppies in each crate that was definite overcrowding and it no doubt resulted in the unnecessary suffering for the puppies which all needed veterinary care to deal with their dehydration.
"Because of these factors we assess this as being far too serious for a conditional discharge. And having been convicted of this you are being banned from owning, keeping or transporting of dogs for two years."
The magistrates sentenced Stokes to a 12 month community order and ordered him to undertake 100 hours of unpaid work and to pay court costs of £85 and a victim surcharge of £95.
***Mark Hirst, 43, the owner of All Star Pet Transport from Huddersfield, was stopped by police in Wiltshire in his van on August 22, 2020 when he showed police his relevant paperwork. Mr Hirst has denied at an earlier hearing a charge of causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal and failing to ensure the welfare of an animal in his care.
He will stand trial at Cirencester Magistrates' Court on September 13.
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