Private prosecution against woman to return dogs adopted from rescue organisation

Nicola Palmer and the dogs

NEWS AND COMMENT: Phoenix Rehoming are a dog rescue organisation with a presence online including on social media. They are based in Fareham, Hampshire, UK. On occasions they import what I believe to be rescue dogs from Romania. In their adoption contract they insist that adopters spay and neuter the adopted dogs. That’s my understanding of the arrangement based upon today’s new story in The Times.

Nicola Palmer adopted a number of dogs from Phoenix Rehoming. She thought that in adopting the dogs that she owned them but she appears not to have read the contract properly because she did not spay and neuter the dogs. She bred from them. She had no licence to breed the dogs and allowed them to have nine puppies five of which she sold for £300 each.

She gave the rest to family members. Phoenix Rehoming in conjunction with the charity Animal Protection Services took out a private prosecution against Nicola Palmer. They appear to have claimed theft and breeding dogs without a licence. I suspect that the allegation of theft came from the fact that Palmer did not own the dogs under the contract (and her breach of it) but claimed that she did. Her breach of the adoption contract probably meant she had to return them and perhaps she refused. Arguably this was a theft.

Apparently it is the first private prosecution of its kind claiming breeding without a licence. Animal Protection Services say that there are a growing number of people informally breeding like this to supply the current demand due to Covid-19 lockdowns. There is lots of talk on the internet about a surge in dog adoptions. Sadly these are often impulse adoptions. The adopters are unable to cope. They return the dogs or they sell them online, a dubious practice. The dogs invariably are exposed to suffering.

It is said that people are switching from drug dealing to puppy dealing as it is more profitable. It’s a frightening thought. The law preventing unlicensed breeding is meant to be enforced by local authorities. They have only brought a handful of cases. Animal Protection Services are bringing seven more private prosecutions for unlicensed breeding.

The prosecution against Palmer was heard at Suffolk Magistrates Court last Wednesday. She pleaded guilty to not having a breeding licence. She was sentenced to a conditional discharge and ordered to pay £230 towards £11,000 costs of the prosecution together with a £21 victim surcharge.

Palmer made a donation of £530 to the charity for the puppies. She said, “It wasn’t made clear to me when I took on the dogs that the charity still owned them even though I had paid for them. I had all the paperwork and passport showing they had been imported from Romania so in my mind they were entirely mine.”

Under the law of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, a person making more than £1,000 annually from dog breeding must have a local authority licence. There is an exception: breeding of family pets. Conclusion: the coronavirus pandemic is distorting the dog adoption market. It is going wrong as there will be more unwanted dogs at the end of the day.

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