TWO people who left dogs ill and “living in their own filth” while running an illegal puppy farm in Bradford have narrowly avoided jail today.

John Wilcock, 36, and Bernadette Nunney, 25, both of Tyersal Lane, were convicted of a raft of animal cruelty offences against 37 dogs kept at a Bradford farm, including puppies left dead and dying in a wheelbarrow.

Wilcock had pleaded guilty to five cruelty offences ahead of a trial at Leeds Magistrates Court last month, while Nunney was convicted of six offences after trial.

The charges were brought by the RSPCA following a raid with police on the farm on September 24 last year.

The charity said it began an investigation following calls from members of the public who had bought puppies which then became ill.

When officers and police executed the warrant they came across a wheelbarrow of dead collie puppies.

One dog was found to be still alive, but despite being rushed to the vets, it died later that day.

Post-mortem results found that the animals had been suffering a form of the Parvovirus, the symptoms of which include acute diarrhoea and vomiting.

The court had been shown video footage taken by RSPCA officers of the dead puppies, plus others drinking water from a puddle and kennels littered with faeces.

Inspectors found 43 dogs - including collies, spaniels, bichon frises, Labradors, beagles, Chihuahuas, and some terrier-cross types - most of which were seized by police and placed into the RSPCA’s care.

During the trial, the court had also been shown footage from the BBC Panorama television programme filmed on September 9 last year, in which undercover reporters bought a puppy from Nunney.

Prosecutor Iain O’Donnell told the court yesterday: “This was effectively a puppy farming prosecution, with a number of dogs kept in a thoroughly unacceptable environment.”

He said the offences had been committed for “commercial gain”, and had involved “several incidents of deliberate ill-treatment and prolonged neglect.”

The defendants, who were both representing themselves, continued to maintain their innocence during yesterday’s hearing.

Wilcock said he had found the puppies abandoned in a lay-by near the farm and had taken them in before they died overnight and were then put in the wheelbarrow.

His claims contradicted veterinary evidence which said it wasn’t “credible” for the animals to become ill and die that quickly.

During her trial, Nunney said she was unaware of the dead puppies in the wheelbarrow, and had “never once” been in the kennels on the farm.

On her appearance in the BBC video where she appeared to be selling a puppy, she said she was merely doing a “one-off favour” for Wilcock.

Sentencing the pair, District Judge Marie Mallon said: “These were very serious offences, with the dead puppies the most serious element of this case.”

Both defendants were jailed for 20 weeks, suspended for 18 months, and given an indefinite ban on keeping or owning dogs.

Wilcock was ordered to perform 200 hours of unpaid work, 20 days rehabilitation activity, and pay £100 costs.

Nunney was given a 12-week curfew, and must complete 15 days rehabilitation requirement and pay £500 costs.

After the case, RSPCA inspector Emma Ellis, who led the investigation, said: “What I saw that day will stay with me forever.

“The sight of the live puppy buried within the pile of dead puppies was heartbreaking.

“There was nothing we could do to save her.

“The way those puppies were left to die highlights how these people simply see them as commodities which I find totally unacceptable.

“Dozens of dogs were being kept at the address in stables and kennel blocks.

“Many had no food, no water, no bedding, and all of them were living in their own filth.”

RSPCA special operations unit chief inspector Ian Briggs added: “There is a growing demand for certain breeds of dogs - such as chihuahuas, spaniels and bichon frises - and genuine, regulated breeders simply cannot meet demand.

“Unregulated puppy breeders and dealers are plugging this gap in the market by producing dogs on a commercial scale and putting money and profits ahead of the health, welfare and happiness of the dogs.

“When our investigations bring us to places such as this farm, we often find dogs living in squalid, sub-standard conditions meaning the unsuspecting public often end up parting with hundreds and hundreds of pounds for puppies who have behavioural issues or health problems throughout their lives.

“In some of the worst cases, their beloved family pet dies in their arms just days after bringing them home.”