Children or no children, Zoe Rushmer belongs in prison
PUBLISHED: 10:42 28 June 2019 | UPDATED: 11:29 28 June 2019
It takes a lot for me to be bothered about animals, but the repulsive trio of puppy farmers have done the trick.
Michael Rushmer, his sister Zoe, and her partner Jacob Murphy sold sick and dying dogs to unsuspecting owners for £600. The new owners faced huge vet bills, while some of the dogs had parvovirus and some were put down.
An RSPCA raid on their base found 74 dogs and puppies, some without food and water, others in cages, dark sheds and a caravan.
MORE: 'Remorseful' puppy farmer makes boastful Facebook post hours after being spared jail
To call them pondlife is a slur on the insects and bottom-feeders that populate our ponds.
It would also be wrong to call them inhuman, because experience tells us that their cruelty, greed and lies are all-too-human traits.
There's something Cruella de Vil about Zoe Rushmer, a cruel, vain, arrogant dog abuser.
De Vil got her comeuppance. But Rushmer has escaped with a sentence that in no way even begins to reflect the depth of her offences.
She got a suspended jail sentence and 250 hours' community service. Freedom and a bit of unpaid work is her "punishment" for putting potentially hundreds of dogs through Hell and deceiving countless innocent people.
MORE: Dog owner landed with £5,700 vet bill after buying from puppy farm
If she possessed an ounce of humanity, Rushmer would have felt both relieved and remorseful: instead, she was posting a gloating message on Facebook about her "freedom".
It all seems like a simple case of lenient sentencing in our imperfect justice system - until you discover that Michael Rushmer and Jacob Murphy were each jailed for three-and-a-half years.
MORE: 'Callous' puppy farming gang members jailed for selling 'diseased' dogs
For a joint enterprise that resulted in similar charges, the disparity between the sentences is extraordinary.
You may also want to watch:
Zoe Rushmer has something that her brother and partner do not, though - she's a woman and a mother.
Judge Andrew Shaw spared her a jail sentence, saying the impact on her four young children of her going to jail would be "too great", adding: "It is your children and only your children that have saved you from going to prison."
Now compassion in the courtroom is not to be dismissed, but in this case Judge Shaw should've said "be still, my bleeding heart" and treated Rushmer with equality - ie locking her up for as long as the two excuses for men she conspired with.
I am not planning to be part of a dog-abusing fraud in the near future, but if I were and I got caught, I'd expect the scales of justice to be balanced. If the crime is the same, let the he and the she get the same measure of punishment.
In the same way that the dogs were caged and locked up in darkness, all who made it so deserve an equal opportunity to understand what it feels like.
To deal with Zoe Rushmer more leniently has more than a faint whiff of reverse sexism: after all, would it be acceptable to jail a woman and give a suspended sentence to her husband because he is the breadwinner?
I know that sentencing is not an exact science, and I agree that judges must take mitigation and personal circumstances into account. But that should not be such a weighty consideration that it leads to a rank injustice like that of the vile Zoe Rushmer walking free from court.
Her subsequent gloating and her attitude throughout the case are an insult to the victims of her fraud - both human and animal.
She does, of course, have four children. It is for others to decide whether she deserves that privilege long-term, bearing in mind the part she has played in the cold, calculating abuse of so many dogs.
However tough it is, though, she should be sweating on that in a prison cell.