ONE of the longest running newspaper investigations I have ever carried out was one involving a Co Tyrone puppy farmer who was selling hundreds of sick and dying dogs to animal lovers across Ireland.
Co Tyrone woman Wilma Little posed under so many aliases, used so many phone numbers and managed to meet ‘customers’ in so many different locations across the province that it took our team a year to track her down.
By the time we were able to knock on the door of her plush, newly built two storied house armed with enough evidence to prove she was running a cruel battery farm, she had already made thousands from selling sick dogs – many who died within weeks of leaving her premises after being diagnosed with serious diseases.
This is what you are funding when you are buying puppies from internet selling sites.
If you really have to buy a dog this Christmas please, please, please do your research.
There are shelters across the north and south bursting at the brims with unwanted puppies and dogs who desperately need homes. There are also magnificent breeders across the country who will make sure the dog you are buying is the right one for you.
Thankfully following the publication of the below article, animal welfare officers stepped in and closed down Ms Little’s battery farm. She also appeared in court on a number of illegal breeding charges.
She may no longer be in operation, but there are hundreds more like her currently operating across the country. Watch out.
Puppy farmer exposed
This is the heartless puppy farmer selling sick and dying dogs to unsuspecting animal lovers across the province.
Sunday Life unmasks Wilma Little as one of the key players in the cruel money-grabbing trade.
In a year-long investigation into her secluded puppy mill on the outskirts of Dungannon, we can reveal how Little, who also uses the name Emma, has been making a fortune churning out ‘designer’ dogs like ‘jugs’ (a Jack Russell/pug cross) and ‘schoodles’ (a shih-tzu/poodle cross) and selling them on the internet.
Sunday Life also gained access to the squalid shed in Donaghmore where the 40-year-old keeps scores of different pups and dogs locked up in disease-ridden cages.
Our shocking undercover footage shows countless breeds caged together before they are sold on.
In a joint investigation with the the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA), we can also reveal:
- Little poses under five different identities to sell various breeds of designer dogs;
- she is raking in thousands of pounds selling dogs for up to £300 a time;
- she uses countless mobile numbers to advertise on the web; and
- the USPCA has received hundreds of complaints about her Tyrone puppy farm in the last 18 months.
Sunday Life launched an undercover investigation into the illegal puppy farm last year after being contacted by a number of devastated dog owners who fell victim to Little.
Each bought a different breed of pup from her, and each was left heartbroken when the pets they brought home turned out to be seriously ill. Some were so sick, they had to be put to sleep.
Belfast woman Tracey Cousins, who bought two miniature Jack Russell pups, was left with a vet bill spiralling into hundreds of pounds after both dogs were found to be suffering from the parvo virus – a killer infection spread amongst dogs.
Just one of them survived.
Another dog sold by Little, a small shih-tzu male, had to receive treatment for urine burns to his legs and body – believed to have been caused by other dogs inside the farm shed.
Our undercover reporters called to Little’s Garvagh Road home after responding to one of her many online adverts.
This time she was selling a litter of brown and black maltese, shih-tzu cross pups, known as ‘mal-shis’.
When we arrived at her plush, two storied home, just a few miles from the quiet village of Donaghmore, she greeted us at the door with the tiny, male pup in her arms.
Selling it as a “loving pet” raised in a “family home”, Little , who at that time told our reporter her name was ‘Julie’, said: “It likes running about, and is very good with children as well.”
Little also paraded out a small black and white female shih-tzu, and claimed the female dog was the pup’s mother.
She said the small shih-tzu, around two years old, was a family pet, and that it was her first litter of pups.
When asked if we could see the father of the pup, she replied: “We don’t have the daddy, we got her covered. He was very healthy, very healthy now.”
She also handed our reporter a health card, apparently signed by a vet, with a sticker from a recent vaccination.
She said: “He has no problems – it went to the vet and got checked over.
“The vet looked over him and gave him his first injection, and he is due again on the 7th of June for another one. And he said it was a very healthy, very healthy wee pup.”
Pointing to a sticker on the small, white card which had the words ‘vaccination record’ across the front, she said: “That’s called parvo, and that is very, very important to get into the pups.
“Very, very important. Then that’s him fully vaccinated for a year.”
We handed over £220 in cash to Little and we did not receive a receipt.
Our undercover team immediately took the animal to the USPCA’s Animal Hospital in Newry where he was examined by a senior vet.
And far from the clean bill of health allegedly given to it by the Co Tyrone woman’s vet, the tiny pup was found to have a list of medical problems.
“He has a large scrotal hernia on his side where you can actually push the contents of the hernia back up inside to the abdomen,” the USPCA’s senior vet told Sunday Life.
“That would be a pretty substantial congenital abnormality. That will require surgical correction.
“Also, you were told the pup was eight weeks old, well at that age they really have all of their teeth – he’s only got a couple of sets. The rest are still under the gum, so he’s probably a bit younger than what you were told.”
He will also require rehabilitative treatment due to behavioural problems – directly caused by being caged with other dogs since being born.
Examining the so-called vet card, handed over by Little, the USPCA vet said: “If your puppy takes sick tonight, who do you contact here? There’s just the name of the company that provide the drugs.
“The second thing is, the vaccine is signed by whoever this is. There really should be a vet stamp here.
“Also, If the puppy is eight weeks, the puppy should have had its first full vaccine and not just its parvo shot.
“We would usually do a parvo shot at six or seven weeks because we can’t give them a full vaccine at that stage.
“So I am little confused as to why it was given a parvo shot at eight weeks, when it could have just been started on the full vaccine.”
Earlier this month we returned to Little’s sprawling home where this time she was selling a litter of ‘schoodles’ – shih-tzu/ poodle cross pups.
Appearing at the door of her sprawling country home with two small, white dogs – one male, one female – the puppy farmer told our reporter: “I had six of them and they are all very healthy pups, very healthy.”
She again paraded out the same female shih-tzu dog she brought out to our undercover team five months before, and again claimed that it was the mother of the litter of pups. Again, she also claimed it was the animal’s first litter, and that the female dog had been “covered” by a pal’s male poodle.
Despite both shivering in fear on the front door step of her home, she told our reporter the timid animals were “more used to children” than adults.
Pointing to the female pup, which sat timidly with its head on its paws, she said: “It doesn’t come near me, but it follows my wee girl everywhere. It’s more of a children’s dog.”
Claiming the dog had been “checked over” and vaccinated, she handed our reporter a health card – allegedly signed, stamped and dated by a vet.
She added:”They’ve been parvoed (received a parvo vaccination), wormed and ‘fleaed’.”
Again, we handed over £220 in cash to Little and then rushed the lethargic and distressed pup straight to the USPCA’s Animal Hospital in Newry, where staff were shocked at its condition.
Diagnosed with kennel cough – a serious respiratory infection in dogs – the tiny, white pup sold to our undercover reporter as a “very healthy” house pet, also had an infection in its nasal passage.
Terrified of human contact because it was only used to the presence of other dogs, the distressed animal also had urine burns on its tiny paws.
A senior USPCA vet also said the schoodle was “riddled with worms”.
But just an hour before, crafty Wilma Little told our undercover team a very different story.
In fact the “friendly” dog had been suffering inside the battery farm shed close to lying Little’s Garvagh Road home.
Stephen Philpott from the USPCA said his charity has been inundated with complaints about Little.
He said: “In recent months, she has been by far the person who the public are complaining about the most. There are others, numerous others, but she is the one that is getting the most complaints.”
On Friday we confronted Little with the evidence we had gathered.
She admitted that she knew what she was doing was illegal, but said she was currently awaiting on a block licence from her local council.
“We did have a licence you see,” she said. “It went out of date and we had to do a couple of things, I’ve paid for it (a block licence), and we are just waiting for the dog people to come out.”
When told about the condition of the animals that Sunday Life bought from her, she replied: “Right.”
And when told we had spoken to other victims whose animals became seriously ill, she replied: “I don’t get many complaints because I tell the people, if anything goes wrong, give me a ring. I have said that to people.”
When asked why she uses so many different names, and telephone numbers to advertise the dogs, she replied: “My daughter puts them on (Gumtree) for me. You are only allowed to use two numbers, and that’s why.”
Sunday Life also asked how many dogs she had sold in a year, after saying that she had to “check the book”, she confirmed she currently had 40 dogs on her premises.
She added: “All our dogs are injected every single year. As I said, anything goes wrong with the pups, ring me and I’ll sort money back. No problem. No-one has came to me with complaints.”
We also asked her to show us around the shed where she admitted to breeding the dogs.
She declined, saying her husband “told me not to.”.
Little added: “I have nothing to hide, not a thing.”
Inside Little’s puppy farm
Howling through the bars of their urine-soaked cages, these are the designer dogs being sold off by a Co Tyrone puppy farmer as “beautiful house pets” reared in “a loving family home”.
But as our exclusive footage from inside Wilma Little’s puppy farm shows, nothing could be further from the truth.
Their beds consist of saw dust, and the only heat they have is the October sun shining through an opened wooden shed door.
It’s unlikely these animals have ever seen the inside of a cosy family home as Little makes out in her online ads, where she advertises pups for up to £300 a time.
Inside one small section of this shed, five cross breed pups are caged inside the one pen.
There are pugs, poodles and shih-tzus – all are unclean, and their fur is unkempt.
Next to them is a fully grown dog, who jumps into a plastic basket in fear as the footage is recorded.
Just inches away, two tiny Chihuahuas scurry into the corner, while a black and tan dog inside the same pen barks over the top of a steel panel, used to separate them from the other dogs. Next to them, is one small black and white terrier like dog.
She is on her own, so has the luxury of having her own bowl of water and food. The rest share in each pen, covered with a scattering of sawdust, probably caused by the dinner time rush.
These scenes are nothing like the pictures used by Wilma Little to sell these production line dogs.
In one advert, Little, who uses various mobile numbers and identities to avoid being detected as an illegal breeder, called one litter of shih-tzu crosses “balls of fluff” ready for their “loving homes”.
“This footage is just typical of the puppy farms I have seen,” USPCA boss Stephen Philpott said after seeing Sunday Life’s footage. “Par for the course.”
“We are getting these types of dogs into our animal hospital on a twice weekly basis, and countless complaints over the phone.
“Puppy farmers like Little will portray themselves as something completely different.
“They’ll use multiple phones, multiple numbers and this particular one that you have experienced will say they are from one part of the country when they are from another.
“They’ll misrepresent the dog, they will say it is something it is not. They will portray the dog to have health and veterinary work, when they haven’t.”
The USPCA Chief Executive added: “You see the lengths we go to here to control disease, and we don’t have anywhere near the amount of dogs these people have.
“There’s an endemic problem with these dogs, so many of them, coming from this address, are sick and someone needs to go and sort it out.
“For all the animal welfare people, we are asking them through your newspaper, who is going to sort this out?”
(Article originally appeared in Sunday Life in October 2014)