Police are hunting more than 100 pitbull-type illegal dogs which were sold as family pets – but are actually descended from a notorious fighting champion called PSYCHO.
Officers fear dozens of buyers may have bought the animals without realising how dangerous they are or their vicious ancestry.
The appeal has been sparked after illegal breeders Steven Tewkesbury, 52, and wife Tracey, 48, pleaded guilty to possession and offering to supply dangerous dogs.
They passed them off as “Irish Staffords” – a breed which experts say does not exist – describing them as “wonderful, loyal” family pets.
But cops fear customers will have little idea of the terrifying threat they pose, particularly to young children.
Police were first alerted after a tip-off and found the couple’s website boasted that one of its breeding dogs is “descended from a famous fighting dog called Psycho”.
Detective Inspector Praveen Naidoo of Devon and Cornwall Police has warned the muscular “pets” could attack with the slightest provocation.
He appealed for customers to come forward pledging not to prosecute people who bought them accidentally.
Det Insp Naidoo said: “Whilst it is a criminal offence to own a pitbull-type dog, unless there are aggravating circumstances around the ownership of the dog, it will not be our intention to prosecute owners.
“Our priority is to ensure that any risk the dog may present to the community and the family in which it is resident is mitigated.
“A number of pitbull-type dogs have already been seized as a result of this operation and we are working closely with the courts to ensure orders are obtained in relation to the dogs promptly.”
Mr and Mrs Tewkesbury were charged and appeared in North Devon Magistrates Court after police were tipped off about their business and website.
They admitted owning Motor, Troy and KC – all classified as illegal pitbull-types – and selling another illegal dog fathered by one of their animals.
They will be sentenced on May 21 when the court will also consider what should happen to their dogs.
Karen Ball, prosecuting, said: “The website gave a history of how Mr Tewkesbury began breeding Staffordshire terriers 10 years ago.
“It gives details of dogs which have been sold and also has information of famous dog fights.
“It also claims one of the dogs owned by Mr Tewkesbury is descended from a famous fighting dog called Psycho.”
Under the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act it is illegal to breed pitbulls or similar crossbreeds.
Widely used in organised fights they were outlawed in Britain after a series of horrific attacks on kids.
Officers think the Tewkesburys sold the dogs to more than 100 buyers across the country.
Some of the animals may be used as status symbols, “weapon dogs” or to breed further generations of fighting dogs.
But others could have been innocently bought up by families and animals lovers who have no idea they are illegal.
One of the couple’s dogs, Motor, was offered for stud on the site at a cost of #350. There were also details of plans to have Motor and another dog, China, mate.
Cops raided the Tewkesbury’s home in Barnstaple, Devon, found four dogs – three identified as pitbull-types.
Tewkesbury, who represented himself and his wife in court on May 10, said he had only recently become aware they were illegal.
He said: “The ‘Pitbull Act’ was for pitbulls, I was unaware of the amendment for type dogs.
“We’ve had our dogs 11 years. We’ve had no complaints and have children who have been bought up with them. They’re our pets, they’re not a danger to society.”
Tewkesbury said his website detailed the history of certain breeds of dogs out of interest.
He added: “I’m dead against dog fighting. It’s just there as information, nothing more, nothing less.”