Animal welfare investigators have seized dozens of cats and kittens from homes allegedly connected to two notorious illegal breeders as part of a large-scale operation into the unlawful sale of animals.
Officers from the RSPCA’s major investigations team, assisted by police, raided two properties in the Ballarat region on Friday, and officers were seen leaving one home with crates of animals.
RSPCA Victoria chief inspector Michael Stagg said while the investigation was in its early stage, 30 cats were seized following a tip-off from a member of the public over allegations of suspected illegal kitten rearing and selling operations.
Stagg said the investigation involved two persons of interest who had previously been prosecuted by RSPCA Victoria for similar offending. The cats and kittens were found in unsanitary, confined conditions and many did not have access to water, he said.
“As a result of executing those warrants, we seized 30 cats and kittens. They’re currently in the care of the RSPCA,” Stagg said.
“We did find a number of cats and kittens in unsanitary and confined conditions. Many of the kittens did not have access to water. They’ve been seized on welfare grounds.”
Liudmila and Con Petropoulos leave a court in June 2019.Credit:Justin McManus
The Age can reveal the two persons of interest are Con and Liudmila Petropoulos, who were both seen speaking with authorities outside a Ballarat property on Friday.
The couple already face a string of animal welfare-related charges, and Con Petropoulos is due in court in May on allegations of conducting an unregistered domestic animal business, failing to comply with prohibition order, selling pet shop animals in an unauthorised place and advertising a cat for sale.
The pair have previously been convicted of animal-related offences and banned from breeding cats.
Friday’s raids followed an ongoing investigation by animal advocacy group Oscar’s Law.
RSPCA officers with crates of cats and kittens on Friday.Credit:RSPCA
Founder Debra Tranter said footage her organisation collected from inside the two homes showed cats and kittens in worrying conditions, with caged animals in every room of both homes. Some were held in cupboards and wardrobes without light.
“There was no furniture in either house. Just cages of cats in every single room,” Tranter said.
Con Petropoulos, also known as Kon or Konstantinos Petropoulos, was banned from selling kittens in 2020 following RSPCA prosecutions dating back to 2017 in locations including Geelong.
In 2020, an Age investigation found he was selling kittens for up to $1500 each at a public car park in Ballarat under the name “Tomas” – a pseudonym he used to advertise four ragdoll kittens on trading website Gumtree.
In March 2020, the couple avoided jail after pleading guilty to animal cruelty and selling kittens unlicensed from an unregistered premise following a landmark RSPCA prosecution.
At the time, the RSPCA said it had found more than 20 cats and kittens stuffed together and stacked in small crates throughout a rental house.
A court later heard several kittens died within days of being purchased.
In December 2020, the pair were again charged and nine kittens were seized after they allegedly breached orders preventing them from breeding cats.
In May 2022, Con and Liudmila Petropoulos were found guilty of a combined 48 charges and ordered to pay more than $120,000 in court costs and fines. They were also banned from owning cats or working in any domestic animal business for 10 years.
The kittens involved in that investigation were found to be suffering from a range of ailments including upper respiratory infections, eye and nasal discharge, diarrhoea, conjunctivitis and ear infections.
Con and Liudmila Petropoulos are due in court in July to appeal against their most recent convictions.
The sale of animals in public places such as parks, roadsides and car parks is illegal in Victoria under the Domestic Animals Act 1994. Dogs and cats must be sold from a registered domestic animal business, a private residence or a place where an animal sale permit is in place.
One of the kittens rescued by the RSPCA on Friday.Credit:RSPCA
Anyone guilty of an offence under the Act can be jailed for up to 12 months or fined up to $30,000.
RSPCA Victoria major investigations team leader Lisa Calleja urged anyone with information about illegal animal activity to visit rspcavic.org/tip-off-form or call 03 9224 2222.
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