Birmingham dog-sitter at centre of missing pets row given five-year pet ban

23 January 2020, 21:25 | Updated: 23 January 2020, 23:22

A woman at the centre of a mystery over five missing dogs has been banned from keeping animals for five years.

Louise Lawford pleaded guilty to four offences relating to her now defunct dog-sitting business, Pawford Paws, in Birmingham.

The local council's investigation was triggered after an incident in June last year, when Mrs Lawford claimed to have "lost" five dogs while walking them in Hopwas Woods, near Tamworth, Staffordshire.

Missing pets Pablo, Maggie, Charlie, Ralph and Jack became known as the "Tamworth Five", as their owners appealed for information.

However, the court heard a further five charges relating to that alleged incident had been withdrawn.

Prosecutor Jonathan Barker said his team "simply did not accept" Lawford's explanation that the dogs were lost a during a walk, but could not prove what happened and had to drop charges relating to the pets' disappearance.

Mr Barker said that none of the missing dogs had been returned to their owners and their fates remained a mystery.

Mrs Lawford sat with a bowed head in the dock at Birmingham Magistrates' Court on Thursday, for what district judge Joanna Dickens called "a very strange case".

The owners of the five missing dogs sat behind Mrs Lawford in the public gallery, listening intently.

The 48-year-old, who owns a rescue Labrador, pleaded guilty to boarding more than the maximum number of three small dogs allowed at her kennels in June last year.

She also admitted boarding dogs from different households without written consent from owners, and without ensuring dogs were vaccinated, flea-treated and wormed.

Mrs Lawford further pleaded guilty to failing to seek veterinary treatment for a West Highland Terrier, named Charlie, after he developed a skin infection while under her care.

Defence lawyer Tom Walkling said Mrs Lawford suffered a nervous breakdown after her marriage failed.

He noted her "extreme and continuing remorse" for "the pain she knows those dog owners suffered, as she is herself a life-long dog owner and lover".

"Her behaviour in June, her out-of-character behaviour, was because of extreme emotional pressure and stress, which started in March and reached a peak in the summer."

He added that, since the dogs' disappearance, Mrs Lawford had received anonymous death threats on social media.

Mr Walkling told the judge that someone in the public gallery had muttered "dog killer" at Mrs Lawford as she walked past.

The judge said it was "a very sad and difficult situation".

"I want to be absolutely clear - my powers are extremely limited because of the nature of the charges the prosecution have chosen to proceed with."

Mrs Lawford was also fined £800 for the offences and ordered to pay a fine of £2,616.