Judgment reserved in appeal over severity of animal cruelty sentence

James Kavanagh jailed in February after 340 dogs, 11 horses removed from his property

James Kavanagh is pictured being taken into custody after being sentenced to three years in prison for animal cruelty. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan.

James Kavanagh is pictured being taken into custody after being sentenced to three years in prison for animal cruelty. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan.


Judgment has been reserved on an appeal by a Co Carlow man over the severity of the sentence he received for serious animal cruelty offences.

James Kavanagh (48) pleaded guilty to 30 counts of causing or allowing animal cruelty at his property at Raheenleigh, Myshall in April 2015. Gardaí­and animal welfare officers found dead dogs and horses, as well as dogs feedings on the carcasses of horses, when they inspected his premises.

A total of 340 dogs and 11 horses were removed from the property after the inspection. Four horses and 20 dogs had to be euthanised subsequently.

Kavanagh was sentenced to three years imprisonment and ordered to pay €35,000 towards costs incurred by the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA) by Judge James McCourt on February 22nd last. His wife, Jennifer Kavanagh, was given a suspended 12 months sentence after she admitted 30 counts of allowing animal cruelty.

Opening the appeal, Colman Cody SC, for Kavanagh, accepted that it was a serious case of neglect but said there were no “overt acts of physical cruelty”.

He said Kavanagh had a dog breeder’s license from Carlow County Council but claimed he “wasn’t breeding dogs”.

He claimed Kavanagh’s premises had been “mischaracterised” by the media as a puppy farm but it was “nothing of the sort”.


Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy said the claim that Kavanagh was not breeding dogs seemed “incompatible” with an objective view of footage from his premises, filmed by the ISPCA, which was played in court. It was accepted that 114 puppies were found on his premises but Kavanagh claimed he “wasn’t aware some of the dogs were pregnant”.

Mr Cody said dog breeding had been Kavanagh’s previous business but the transportation of dogs was subsequently “generating more money for him”.

He said legislative changes in recent years had required that all dogs in Ireland obtain “puppy passports”and that people were “offloading dogs” onto Kavanagh because they did not want to pay for these.

The court heard that Kavanagh was being paid €40 to €50 depending on the breed of dog he transported and that charitable organisations, mostly in the UK, covered the cost of transport.

President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham said the issue was being presented as if changes in the legislation had caused problems for Kavanagh “but in truth it seems the changes in the legislation created a bonanza for him”.

Mr Cody said it was not a fair characterisation. He said a lot of people were “complicit in this”.

“If you’re in the business of transporting dogs, the more dogs you can get your hands on the better,” Mr Justice Birmingham said.

Mr Cody submitted that the sentencing judge fell into error when he said Kavanagh had expressed no remorse as his client had done so to the ISPCA inspectors and instructed his lawyers to do so on his behalf in court.


Mr Justice Edwards commented that “anyone can assert remorse” but there was not a “scintilla of evidence to suggest” Kavanagh regretted what had happened in any way.

“He regretted that he was caught,” the judge said.

The three-judge court was shown a 10-minute video from Kavanagh’s premises, which included footage of dogs eating the carcasses of horses.

Kavanagh’s explanation was that they were “not his horses” but had strayed onto his property, Mr Cody said.

After watching the video, Mr Justice Birmingham said horses were clearly shown in some form of paddock and he asked how they could have strayed into an enclosed area.

Mr Cody said they were originally “stray horses”, adding that Kavanagh had 15 of his own horses and efforts were made to get rid of the strays.

“The implication is they (the horses) were there to feed the dogs,” Mr Justice McCarthy commented.

Mr Cody said it was never suggested that horses were being brought onto Kavanagh’s property “for the express purpose of feeding the dogs”.

Mr Justice McCarthy said there may have been no evidence to suggest the horses were being fed to animals “but de facto they were being fed to dogs. He (Kavanagh) was allowing them to be fed to dogs.”

Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Conor O’Doherty BL, said it was one of the single biggest animal welfare prosecutions in the history of the State. The three-judge court reserved its judgment.

Mr Cody had previously sought “urgent” bail for Kavanagh pending his appeal. He was instead given an early date for hearing.

Mr Cody said Kavanagh’s teenage son was killed in a road traffic accident shortly after his client went into custody. Following the incident, he said Mrs Kavanagh “had to be sedated” and admitted to hospital. He said Kavanagh was on suicide watch in the Midlands Prison and had to be moved from his original cell to the sex offenders wing “for his own safety”.