A DOG breeder has been jailed after he raised sick puppies in squalid and ‘inhumane’ conditions before selling them to families.

Rocky Knight, of Masefield Drive, Farnworth, was sent to prison for 16 weeks at Bolton Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday.

The 36-year-old admitted three counts of causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal. He had previously pleaded guilty to a further three.

The RSPCA launched an investigation in 2016 following a number of complaints from members of the public who had bought puppies that had fallen ill and, in some cases, had died.

During one of the RSPCA warrants at Knight’s home address in December, officers found two female dogs, a pug and a dachshund-cross, being kept in makeshift pens in an outbuilding in the rear garden.

Insp Pippa Boyd said: “We found a crossbreed called Patsy and pug called Phoebe living in horrendous conditions in dark, dank and cold pens with no warm bedding or dry areas off the floor. It was a completely inhumane environment to keep dogs.

“Thankfully, we got to them in time and removed them. They were incredibly itchy and Phoebe had serious breathing problems. But they’ve been doing well in our care since and we have lovely new homes lined up for them.

“Sadly, we were too late for some, including a little puppy whose body we found wrapped up in a plastic bag at the house.”

Knight advertised the dogs online and passed himself off as a responsible, reputable breeder.

He offered to deliver puppies to new owners or arranged to meet them in car parks away from his home.

In court, it was revealed that three of the complainants, Sandra Hilton, Julia Prior and Claire Hall, had each bought puppies for their families in November last year.

But in each of the cases, the puppy became ill and had to be put down within weeks of being bought.

Andrew Davidson, prosecuting for the RSPCA, said Ms Hilton had bought a puppy called Jack on November 14 last year for £250.

But he had to be ‘put to sleep’ on November 24 after he was found to have worms when his health deteriorated.

Mr Davidson said: “If Jack had been treated correctly, the subsequent illness and health problems would have been unlikely to occur.

“Miss Hilton said Jack was like one of the family.”

Ms Prior bought her puppy Molly from Knight on November 23, as a present for her seven-year-old daughter’s birthday.

But Molly also deteriorated and was also found to have worms. She began to get thinner, losing about 1.1kg, and also had to be put down.

Mr Davidson said: “This was traumatic for the family.

“Molly had been bought for Ms Prior’s daughter’s birthday and she was devastated about what happened.”

Ms Hall also bought a puppy from Knight in late November last year for her daughter, after her previous dog died.

The puppy, called Teddy, stopped eating on November 24 and was vomiting regularly.

It was found that Teddy had been suffering from parvovirus, a viral disease, and the family was left with ‘no choice’ but to put him to sleep.

Mr Davidson said: “She was devastated about what happened to Teddy and she was in bed all week.

“Mr Knight had told her that Teddy had been around three children so she thought he was brought up in a healthy environment.”

Leigh Morgan, defending, said Knight was ‘remorseful’ and accepted responsibility for his actions.

She said: “You probably have little in terms of positive feelings towards Mr Knight. He is remorseful and, in his words, he wishes he could turn the clocks back.

“He accepts his culpability. He did not go out there to intentionally sell families sick puppies. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

“From looking at the puppies, he could not tell they were sick but he accepts that he is responsible and had not taken care of them appropriately.”

The dogs that were cared for by staff at the RSPCA’s Warrington branch have already found new homes.

Insp Boyd said: “This should be a major flag to anybody looking into buying a puppy.

“A genuinely responsible breeder who has the best interests of their dogs in mind will be happy for you to visit the puppies in the environment they were born and see them interacting with their mother, siblings and people.

“We would advise anyone thinking of getting a puppy to first consider adopting a dog from a rescue centre.”