Woman jailed for 22 weeks for illegal dog breeding after 41 animals seized from Shropshire property

Woman jailed for 22 weeks for illegal dog breeding after 41 animals seized from Shropshire property

Dozens of dogs and other animals were found living in squalor at a farmhouse.

A Shropshire woman has been sent to prison for 22 weeks after running an illegal dog breeding business that caused dozens of animals to suffer and made her £150,000.

Thirty-five dogs, including cavapoos, cockapoos, dachshunds, Cavalier King Charles spaniels and terriers were found living in appalling conditions in Tilstock, after the RSPCA and West Mercia police carried out a warrant at the address on 24 February 2021.

The investigation was launched following complaints from members of the public who had bought puppies and dogs from the farm who later became ill.

Appearing at Kidderminster Magistrates Court last Thursday (6 October), the woman was disqualified from keeping all animals for life and ordered to pay costs of £44,000 following a prosecution by the RSPCA. She had pleaded guilty to 17 animal welfare offences relating to 27 dogs, eight puppies, two cats, a horse, a lamb, a terrapin and an African grey parrot at an earlier hearing on 3 October. This included one offence of breeding and selling puppies without a licence.

Her daughter, who also lived at the farm, was given an 11-week custodial sentence, suspended for 12 months, a ten-year ban on keeping all animals and ordered to pay costs of £20,000 after admitting nine animal welfare offences.

The court heard how mother and daughter were illegally operating an extensive commercial dog breeding operation at the site and advertised the enterprise on different websites.

Dogs and puppies were housed in wooden sheds, pens and kennels, some barely bigger than a large rabbit hutch.

Around £9,000 in cash was seized from a safe at the property during the operation. The court heard that since 2017, the woman had made £150,000 from illegally breeding and selling puppies.

In her evidence, Kate Parker, the RSPCA inspector who led the warrant, said:

There were wooden sheds with stable-type doors. Inside I could see a typical breeding set up for puppies, with a heat lamp angled over a plastic dog bed, an empty bowl and some soiled rags inside the bed.

Inside a lean-to-type construction, there was a row of metal-constructed kennels. There was a thin layer of sawdust on the concrete floor, clutter, household items and electrical cables dangling inside, accessible by the dogs housed in each.

I offered Alison Bransby the opportunity to sign over animals she wished into the care of the RSPCA to assist in reducing numbers and ease difficulties in caring for them on-site, to which she disagreed.

Among the large number of dogs found was an emaciated and elderly King Charles Cavalier called Teddy, who is thought to have been used for breeding. Curled up in a plastic bed in the corner of the dark kitchen, he was found to be blind and deaf with only one tooth left in his mouth.

His fur was stained with urine and he was suffering from severe, untreated ear disease which was so long-standing that both ear canals had effectively collapsed. Such was the extent of his neglect that he was put to sleep on veterinary advice to prevent further suffering.

Dozens of other neglected and poorly animals were discovered at the property, which a vet said had been inadequately cared for for at least nine months due to the severity of ear and dental disease present in some of the cats and dogs. They included:

  • Fifteen dogs of various ages and breeds - some with urine stains on their fur and significant underlying health conditions - living in dark, cluttered and unhygienic conditions in the kitchen, with limited access to water bowls and bedding.
  • Eight puppies, born to a one-eyed mother dog, found in an outdoor kennel block with no water, whose basic standards of animal husbandry had not been met.
  • Four dogs living in one of several substandard kennel blocks and pens that had severe dental disease and had been suffering for at least four months because of the defendants' failure to seek veterinary treatment.
  • Two cats that had been suffering unnecessarily for a period of at least six weeks and six months respectively due to significant ear disease, with one of the animals having a visible protruding mass.
  • A lamb whose lower eyelids had rolled in, causing pain, trauma and ulceration to the surface of the eye.  
  • A terrapin with a heavily deformed shell living in an enclosure with no UV or heat source.
  • An African grey parrot with extensive fur loss to his chest living in a filthy cage with a thick layer of dried faecal matter.
  • A thoroughbred mare called Ruby with severely overgrown hooves that had not been treated for at least six months and teeth that had not been seen for two years.

In his evidence to the court, another RSPCA inspector, Mike Scargill, said:

The door to the house led into a very dark hallway where there was a cage on the left-hand side containing an African Grey parrot.

Excrement covered every surface of the cage and the bird showed signs of feather plucking around its chest area. The floor was wet underfoot and smelled strongly of urine. I then went into the kitchen area - the smell of urine was quite overpowering and the floor was sticky to walk on.

A vet said that none of the 41 animals that were seized had been provided with a suitable environment by the defendants and insufficient steps had been taken by them to protect the animals from pain, injury, suffering and disease. The vet added:

It was abundantly clear from the layout of the property, the dogs present, the previous advertisements and the presence of puppies that the property was being used as a dog breeding establishment, which was unlicensed.

As such the dogs should have been housed in accommodation consistent with a licensed breeding establishment, which makes specific requirements in relation to space provision, as well as the materials from which the kennels are constructed.

The external kennels and pens that the dogs were being housed in fell far short of the licensing standards and hence it is my expert opinion that the environmental provisions for the dogs were unsuitable for their needs.

In mitigation, the court heard that Alison Bransby was suffering from physical and mental health issues during the time of the offences. Her daughter, a radiographer - who was also ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work - had moved into the farm to help look after her mother and the animals in January 2021, but acknowledged that they were not being cared for properly.

Imposing an immediate custodial sentence, District Judge Ian Strongman said the defendant had been aware for a long time that she couldn't cope and she knew there were organisations that could assist.

He added that although the cruelty was not deliberate, it had occurred over a prolonged period of time and it was obvious the animals were clearly suffering, which in his view, was tantamount to someone causing them deliberate harm.

RSPCA animal centres in Leicester, Birmingham and Aylesbury, assisted by a number of the charity's fosterers, took in the animals. All but three have since been rehomed. They include dachshund Eric, who was adopted by a police officer from West Mercia who assisted in the operation.

Sadly, Ruby, the horse and both cats were put to sleep on veterinary advice to prevent further suffering.

Speaking after sentencing, inspector Ian Briggs from the RSPCA's special operations unit, which investigated the illegal selling, said:

We'd like to thank West Mercia police officers for their help and support with this long-running case and for their time and assistance on the day in what were difficult and upsetting conditions.

This appalling case shows what can happen when breeders and sellers put profits ahead of the health and welfare of their dogs. Stud dogs used on puppy farms are not spoken about as much but Teddy was the saddest of examples. 

Blind and deaf, he'd been used all his life by the defendants for financial gain, yet in his final months he wasn't even afforded the kindness of a comfortable resting place and had simply been forgotten about, just left to lie in his own urine.

We'd always encourage anyone thinking of getting a puppy to adopt rather than buy, and to do lots of research first to ensure they source a dog responsibly and don't end up lining the pockets of irresponsible people who make money out of misery.

PCSO Hannah Lister, from West Mercia Police, said:

West Mercia would like to thank the members of the public who came forward to express their concerns about the farm, and to the RSPCA for their help, support and guidance in securing the charges against the two women. We want to send a clear message that if evidence emerges of people committing cruel offences against animals, we'll work with our partners to bring them to justice.

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