A magistrate has admonished an Arnold puppy farmer found with dozens of dogs living in squalid conditions for his involvement in the "repugnant industry".
Miroslav Brestovac, 46, was convicted and fined $3000 in the Bendigo Magistrates' Court on Wednesday after pleading guilty to four charges of cruelty, conducting a domestic animal business on unregistered premises, and conducting a non-compliant domestic animal business.
The court heard that in October last year, the RSPCA Inspectorate received a report from Loddon Shire Council about a stray underweight Staffordshire bull terrier-type puppy, which they found had come from Brestovac's property.
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The council asked the RSPCA to inspect the property, as it was suspected there were a large number of dogs there for breeding purposes, despite Brestovac holding no permit.
An RSPCA inspector searched the Trading Post website and discovered an account with advertisements for puppies.
The following day the RSPCA received a report of the sale of an allegedly underweight Staffordshire bull terrier puppy, which they had bought from Brestovac's address. The puppy had an internal parasite.
RSPCA inspectors and a Loddon Shire officer attended the property and found a closed dog trailer with four compartments, which held a female Staffordshire bull terrier and an unweaned puppy, a female Staffordshire bull terrier that appeared to be heavily pregnant and had healing wounds, two Staffordshire bull terrier puppies that were about 10 weeks old, and three fox terrier puppies, about eight weeks old.
The informant in the matter, RSPCA inspector Steve Cook, wrote in a summary read to the court that the trailer smelled "putrid" because dog faeces covered the entire floor and there was very poor ventilation.
He reported the dogs had to stand in their own waste and there was dry dog food on the floor, among the faeces.
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Mr Cook found a "minimal" amount of water in dirty containers, along with separate containers containing dry dog food.
The inspectors found another 42 dogs in a large makeshift shed on the property, 28 of which were fertile females.
These were Staffordshire bull terriers, fox terriers, Japanese spitz, and Siberian huskies, housed in makeshift pens.
Mr Cook reported many of the dogs exhibited timid and withdrawn behaviours, and the pens contained a copious amount of dry dog food and minimal water in a rusted metal drum.
The court heard there was a large amount of faeces on the ground, as well as hazards that included loose metal and wire flooring.
There was only a tin roof, and some of the pens had open sides that exposed the dogs to the elements.
The insufficient flooring and the lack of raised or soft bedding for the dogs were in breach of the code of practice for breeding businesses.
The dogs found in the trailer were immediately seized, and Brestovac - who arrived at the property during the inspection - was served with notices to provide a proper, safe and hygienic environment for the remaining dogs.
Mr Cook also told Brestovac he had to cease trading as a 'domestic animal business' and had to register with the council if he had more than 10 fertile females, the limit for a Dogs Victoria member without a permit.
A veterinarian examination of the seized dogs found some had faecal staining on their paws from their poor living conditions, and most had parasites.
Inspectors attended the property three days after their first inspection and found some improvements, including clean water, fresh straw and the removal of excess faeces.
They attended again in late October 2019 to collect dogs that Brestovac wished to surrender to the RSPCA, in order to comply with restrictions on the number of fertile females.
The court heard Brestovac had been the subject of eight earlier animal welfare reports in 2017 and 2018, relating to the alleged sale of sick puppies, dogs kept in poor living conditions, and a dog being confined in a car with no water.
Brestovac had received two letters arising from these reports, advising him of his legal obligations.
Brestovac's lawyer Robert Timms told the Bendigo Magistrates' Court on Wednesday that the dogs in the trailer had been sent to the property shortly after midnight on the day of the inspection, and his client knew the dogs were coming, but he did not know what state they would be in.
Mr Timms said other people were involved in the breeding operation, but his client did not resile from the fact he owned the land.
"My client was somewhat overwhelmed with the number of dogs that arrived," he said.
Mr Timms said Brestovac acknowledged he should have arranged the necessary permits and set the property up before the dogs arrived.
"Once my client was directed and guided by the inspectors, Your Honour, he certainly tidied and cleaned up to a reasonable degree," he said.
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Brestovac's membership of Dogs Victoria had been cancelled, he said, and he had no option to rejoin.
Loddon Shire Council also refused to issue any permits.
"So his dog breeding days are over," Mr Timms said.
He said Brestovac - who held a Master of Divinity in the Anglican Orthodox Church - was in a "very embarrassing" position, given his standing in the Bosnian community.
"And having a divinity degree, he's not been nice to his fellow creatures," magistrate Alan Spillane said.
Mr Timms submitted his client worked casually and earned about $2500 per month, out of which he paid support for his children.
Mr Spillane told Brestovac he was "very surprised that [he] let this situation get so badly out of hand".
"These are terrible offences," the magistrate said.
Had the situation continued on for a few more months, Mr Spillane said, a sentence of imprisonment would have been at the forefront of his mind.
Mr Spillane acknowledged Brestovac had pleaded guilty early, cooperated with the prosecution and had a previously clean criminal record.
He said the $3000 fine Brestovac received was about a third of the penalty he would ordinarily impose on someone who was working full-time.
Brestovac was also banned from breeding animals for five years.
"I think there's a general public repugnance for puppy farming, and you were involved in a very repugnant industry," Mr Spillane said.
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