RSPCA bosses have pleaded with East Lancashire animal lovers to think twice when purchasing pets online after a puppy dealer from Burnley was banned from keeping dogs for six years.

An investigation was launched into the activities of Linda Winter by the animal protection charity after police found a variety of animals in squalid conditions at a freezing-cold farm in Worsthorne.

Several dogs, cats and guinea pigs were found in caravans and a nearby stable block by officers, who were conducting a stakeout as part of an unrelated criminal operation, and the RSPCA was alerted.

The conditions in the caravan were said to be filthy and often the animals had not been given adequate food or water despite the temperature barely being above zero degrees centigrade.

The cats had been left sitting in their own filth in cages and no water had been left for two Bedlington terriers and a small black spaniel. The terriers coats were also matted.

Two rabbits and a guinea pig, left in cages by Winter at the Lennox Street paddock, were found to be dead by police.

Winter, 40, of Wycoller Avenue, Brunshaw, Burnley, was questioned about the discovery and later charged with 18 offences of failing to provide adequate care and diets for 13 animals found by the authorities.

She denied the charges during a two-day trial at Reedley Magistrates Court in December but was convicted of all the offences.

In her defence, Winter said her car had been impounded and she was unable to attend to care for the animals daily. Her daughter and a family friend had been given the responsibility instead and had not done a good job.

Magistrates banned Winter from keeping dogs and all other animals for six years and to pay costs to the RSPCA of £260.

The court heard that the disqualification may prove difficult to enforce as his client’s 17-year-old daughter had pets of her own.

But the bench told Winter she must make provisions to ensure she complied with the ban or face further court action.

The trial was told that Winter’s details had been found on various trading websites, advertising puppies and ponies for sale.

Following the case RSPCA inspector Jason Bowles, who investigated Winter, said: “She left these animals to live in freezing and squalid conditions and some suffered and others died as a result.

“She was caught out though as the result of a joint operation between the RSPCA and Burnley Police.

“I would like to make a plea to people to be aware when you are buying an animal, without researching its history properly, then you could be funding misery for more animals in future.”