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Prosecuting unlicensed dog and cat breeders

Gary Grant looks at a recent case where £50,000 in financial penalties were imposed on unlicensed dog and cat breeders.

Following a rare prosecution of unlicensed dog and cat breeders brought by the London Borough of Hillingdon, on 6 April 2021, at Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court, District Judge Deborah Wright sentenced a husband and wife team to almost £50,000 in financial penalties for breeding and selling dogs and cats without the necessary licence required under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and regulations.

The regulation of pet breeding and sales has become an increasingly important focus of local authority enforcement work. The revised licensing regime came into force from 1 October 2018 and “Lucy’s Law” was introduced from 6 April 2020. The purpose, of course, is both to protect the welfare of the animals and to ensure that purchasers receive healthy animals from properly regulated breeders and sellers.

Galyna Khudyakova and Volodymyr Tymoshenko ran a business breeding and selling French bulldogs, pugs and Russian Blue cats from their home in West Drayton. Although the summonsed period covered just 9 weeks in late 2018, it was clear from paperwork found during the search of the address that the couple had been running the business for several years on a professional basis. In their PACE interviews both defendants claimed that the 23 dogs and 23 cats were all “family pets”.

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Having initially entered not guilty pleas back in August 2019, the defendants sought to raise numerous legal objections to the prosecution including abuse of process and inadmissibility of material pre-dating the summonsed period. None of the applications were successful. The defendants changed their pleas to guilty shortly before the five-day summary trial was due to begin.

The two offences faced by each defendant were both brought under section 13(1) and (6) of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The first offence alleged the selling of cats and dogs as pets (including keeping animals) in the course of a business without a licence contrary to regulation 3(1) and paragraph 2 of Schedule 1 to the Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018. The second offence was the breeding of dogs without a licence contrary to regulation 3(1) and paragraph 8 of Schedule 1 to the 2018 Regulations.

The Judge viewed the offences as “serious” and accepted the prosecution case that the following aggravating factors were present for the purposes of sentencing:

  1. Large scale and long-term commercial breeding and sales for a financial motive.
  2. The animals were kept in unacceptable conditions.
  3. The defendants made false claims to the investigators by claiming all the animals were domestic pets and denying they were commercial breeders. They had not acted in a co-operative manner with the prosecution.
  4. Pet breeding and sales appears to have been the primary business activity of both defendants over several years. The defendants ought to have known of the licensing requirements.
  5. There is a strong public interest in commercial breeders obeying licensing restrictions designed to protect the welfare of animals and the interests of purchasers of the animals.

Each defendant was fined £9,000 (£4,500 for each offence), plus a total of £30,000 in prosecutions costs and the victim surcharge.

These same defendants were previously subject to a costs order against them in the sum of £207,000 for, in September 2019, unsuccessfully resisting an application by the Council for a possession order relating to the dogs and cats under s.20 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 on the basis that the animal’s welfare needs were not being met and they were suffering, or were likely to suffer if their circumstances did not change. In a third set of legal proceedings the defendants also appealed to the First-Tier Tribunal against the Council’s refusal to grant a pet sales licence. That appeal was later withdrawn following the Council’s response.

The lengthy and painstaking criminal investigation that eventually prompted the late guilty pleas was led by Lois King, Principal Licensing Officer and Stephanie Waterford, Services Manager for Licensing, Food and Safety Regulation, at the London Borough of Hillingdon.

Gary Grant of Francis Taylor Building advised and acted for the prosecuting Council instructed by Chantelle McLeod and Nicole Cameron of Hillingdon’s Legal Services Department.

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