First pictures released by RSPCA of conditions in which dogs were kept at rescue centre run by pet shop boss Rob Phipps

The RSPCA was called in late 2013 with concerns about the dogs.

The RSPCA was called in late 2013 with concerns about the dogs. - Credit: Archant

Rob Phipps, owner of The Pet Shop, in March, has been found guilty of three animal welfare offences, including causing unnecessary suffering to a dog. He was cleared of three charges. He has confirmed that he will appeal the verdict.

The RSPCA was called in late 2013 with concerns about the dogs.

The RSPCA was called in late 2013 with concerns about the dogs. - Credit: Archant

The verdict from deputy district judge Timothy Boswell came after a three-day trial at Peterborough magistrates court.

Phipps, 36, of Elm Road, March, was charged in relation to 34 dogs kept inside The Pet Shop Discount Warehouse in Commercial Road, March.

Deputy district judge Boswell took about an hour to reach his verdict, which was delivered shortly after 5.30pm.

Phipps was found guilty of:

The RSPCA was called in late 2013 with concerns about the dogs.

The RSPCA was called in late 2013 with concerns about the dogs. - Credit: Archant


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• Failing to provide a suitable environment for 34 dogs,

• Failing to provide the dogs with an appropriate supply of drinking water, and

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• Causing unnecessary suffering to a dog by housing them in cages next to each other, allowing them to fight through the bars and cause injuries to each other.

He was found not guilty of:

• Failing to maintain an appropriate body condition for three dogs, and

• Failing to administer medication to a dog.

Summing up, deputy district judge Boswell said: “This man had the very best of intentions but simply took on more than he could handle.

“However, this is a serious case. As an experienced dog handler he should have known that keeping dogs in those conditions was wholly unacceptable.

“Out of your sheer desire to take in dogs to re-home them, you kept your eyes closed to the conditions they were being kept in.”

Phipps was disqualified from keeping dogs for three years and was sentenced to a 12-month community order and 180 hours of unpaid work. He was also ordered to pay £1,000 costs and a £60 surcharge.

A deprivation order was also made, so the dogs remain in the care of the RSPCA.

Following the verdict, RSPCA chief inspector Kat Parfitt said: “We are satisfied that this case was heard and that a fair judgement was made.

“The reason we go to court is to set acceptable standards in the care of animals.”

After the guilty verdicts and the sentence were served, defence solicitor Sara Lise-Howe told the court that an appeal will be lodged.

THE CASE

RSPCA inspectors seized the dogs when they visited the warehouse on February 27 last year.

The dogs were kept in crates overnight without access to water. Some cages had two dogs inside.

One dog suffered facial injuries where their cages were pushed closely together and they were fighting.

Another later lost an eye because vets could not save it following infection for a fight injury.

There was blood where dogs had been fighting and some dogs had excrement in their cage.

Veterinary surgeon Cees Bennett, who attended the inspection, said he feared the dogs would suffer if they stayed in the warehouse.

He said: “I felt, with the lack of space and water, the environment was likely to cause suffering if the situation continued.

“Having spoken to Mr Phipps I heard no possibility of that being altered and there were specific animals I was concerned about.

“I first talked with Mr Phipps about whether the animals could remain in situ and for an improvement notice to be given but then we had a philosophical decision and it became abundantly clear that he was not willing to change.

“It was then that my concerns became more acute and the decision was made it was better the animals were removed.”

Prosecuting, Francesca Lewington said Phipps had taken on more dogs than he could cope with.

She said: “I’m not suggesting you set out to do harm to any dogs, I’m sure you meant to do a good thing. But you took on more dogs than you could handle.

“You put them in cages that were too small for anything other than the shortest period of time. The dogs were in cages without water for long periods of day and night. This scenario was patently not adequate for the dogs.”

PHIPPS

Phipps told the court he “couldn’t happily see dogs left out on the street or put down for no reason”.

He said he interrupted his Christmas dinner to pick up a dog in Peterborough who was going to be left out in the streets after attacking another dog.

Phipps said he was willing for dogs to be rehomed but he could not get a commitment from the RSPCA that dogs would not be put to sleep.

He said: “I raised the issue of rehoming the dogs because it’s for the best for the dogs. The RSPCA has more money and better facilities. If we can get dogs rehomed that’s the whole point of the exercise.

“I asked the inspector if he was willing to take on any of the dogs but he said the RSPCA would not find a no-put-to-sleep agreement.”

Phipps said he would rather have dogs in crates than in kennels “where they are not happy and spinning”.

He said the dogs would normally be in crates overnight from 10pm-8am. In the morning they would be let out for water and fed.

Dogs would be walked two or three times a day and the crates would be cleaned every day, Phipps said.

He estimated he had spent thousands of pounds on vet bills “and if I had any concerns about a dog I would call the vet straight away and get them treatment”.

Phipps said the dogs were getting an appropriate amount of food and exercise and were well hydrated.

Only empty crates were stacked three high, he told the court. Crates with dogs in them would be stacked two high at most.

If there were two dogs in the same cage, it was because they were brother and sister and “could not be separated due to their level of attachment”.

Dog walker Andrew Hardy, who volunteered at the animal rescue, described Phipps as a “true gent”.

He said: “Rob’s priority was the dogs. I told him he was daft as a brush for spending so much money on them but he did it because he is a caring person who wants the best for the dogs. He’s a true gent.”

EARLIER INSPECTION

Inspectors carried out an inspection of the warehouse seven weeks before the dogs were seized.

RSPCA chief inspector Mark Thompson told the court he raised his concerns with Phipps about conditions inside the warehouse during a visit to the premises on January 7. However, no improvement notice was issued.

Mr Thompson said: “We told him we didn’t approve of dogs being kept in those types of cages for an extended period of time, that there was a lack of good bedding and that there was no water was available in the cages.

“Mr Phipps advised me that volunteers came and walked the dogs near March prison but he was still given serious advice that dogs should not have to live in those conditions and should have access to water 24/7.

“We made it clear we would revisit to ensure improvements occur. We would have expected to see a change within three to four weeks.”

Defending, Sara Lise-Howe said no improvement notice was issued to Phipps and no time frame was given for a re-visit.

She said: “The first thing that should have happened if someone was truly concerned about the environment is for a warning notice to be issued. This is something you would expect an enforcement authority to do.

“If conditions were wrong to the extent the dogs’ needs were not being met, why was it not demanded things were changed forthwith?”

Phipps was looking to make improvements including building new kennels, she said.

Phipps said he was not told he was expected to improve conditions in the warehouse.

He said: “They said they didn’t agree with the crates but it was light-hearted. They had a look around and seemed happy.

“The dogs were healthy; there was no mention of wrongdoing.

“I told them I was going to put in an exercise run and they said they would come back to have a look at it.

“Had they told me the crates were against the law, I would have changed them. They didn’t issue an improvement notice.”

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