A woman from Hertfordshire has been sentenced in absence to three years and four months in prison for “for running a criminal enterprise importing and selling puppies, many of whom were sick, and passing them off as valuable designer dogs”.
Louise St John Poulton, also known as Phoebe Dobbs, was sentenced to an additional four months, to run consecutively, for breaching a previous suspended sentence. Poulton, who pleaded not guilty, is currently living in Spain.
RSPCA officers launched an investigation in 2017 following a number of complaints from families who had bought puppies in London and South East.
Vikki Dawe, from the RSPCA’s Special Operations Unit, led the investigation. She said, “Poulton and an accomplice worked together to buy in, advertise and sell on puppies which were considered valuable in the market.
“Over a period of between six months to a year, 59 adverts were placed that we’ve been able to connect to the duo. Each advert included an average of seven puppies – so that’s a total of more than 400 dogs.
“Poulton is believed to have defrauded the public out of £300,000 by selling these puppies to them as if they were family-bred, home-grown dogs of specific breeds when, in fact, they were neither.”
The RSPCA spoke to 38 witnesses as part of its investigation, almost all of whom bought their dogs from a property in Wimbledon, London. When police executed a warrant at the address, as part of the RSPCA investigation, on 18 July 2017, they found two adult dogs and six puppies – all of different breeds and ages – inside.
More raids at different properties followed, with mobile phones removed as part of the investigation. Text messages between Poulton and a second woman were found discussing how to advertise puppies and which breeds to advertise them as – in order to maximise profits.
“We know that Poulton and her accomplice were deliberately misleading the public in order to capitalise on the popularity – and value – of specific breeds by falsely describing puppies as cockerpoos and cavachons,” inspector Dawe explained.
“One witness bought two dogs – both sold as cockerpoos – from the same litter. Now they’re fully grown one is a liver-coloured spaniel and the other is a little, white bichon frise-type.
“Some of the puppies they sold were also very sick and were carrying nasty diseases. One of the pups sadly went on to die. Although they were telling prospective buyers that they had been homebred – even using a male dog as a fake mum – many of the dogs had in fact been imported to be sold on.”