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Belfast woman kept exotic animals in 'filthy conditions'

Defendant avoids jail after court told 20 dogs among dozens of pets and reptiles living in Belfast home

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Seven bearded dragons were rescued (PA)

Seven bearded dragons were rescued (PA)

Seven bearded dragons were rescued (PA)

A woman who kept dozens of wild animals and domestic pets in overcrowded and filthy conditions at her north Belfast home has avoided prison.

Phyllis Burns had rooms full of dogs, exotic birds, snakes and other reptiles found in a severely dehydrated state due to a lack of water.

An African grey parrot discovered in her Rosapenna Walk house was nearly bald, while a tortoise could only drag its legs due to muscle wastage.

Burns, of unknown age, received a seven-month suspended sentence and was banned from keeping any species for 15-years.

She was convicted on five counts of causing unnecessary suffering to animals, and a further 14 of failing to ensure their needs were met. The charges involved:

  • Six corn snakes;
  • Seven bearded dragon lizards;
  • Three tortoises;
  • Twelve Chihuahuas;
  • Six Yorkshire terriers;
  • A St Bernard dog;
  • A West Highland terrier;
  • Three cats;
  • Eight hamsters;
  • Five parrots;
  • Eight finches;
  • Two lovebirds;
  • Two chickens;
  • Three degus (Chilean rodents)

Belfast Magistrates' Court heard City Council officers went to her home on October 2, 2017 to carry out checks.

They heard barking and detected a strong smell of urine coming from inside the property.

Officers located five of the dogs immediately, and then went upstairs to continue their investigations.

A prosecution lawyer said the hallway was dark, with the stairs covered in faeces.

More Chihuahuas and Yorkshire Terriers were discovered in a first floor room.

Waste and urine covered the floor and the dog crates, while food and water bowls were empty.

The corn snakes, bearded dragons and tortoises were in a front bedroom inside dirty vivariums stacked on top of each other.

No food or water was available for the creatures, and beetles were spotted crawling over the containers.

The hamsters were in stacked, dirty cages in the landing area, while the birds were being kept in the kitchen.

"Their cages were filthy and appeared not to have been cleaned in a long time," the prosecutor said.

"The African grey parrot had extensive feather loss to its chest, to the point it was almost bald."

The chickens and degus were discovered in a similar condition in an outside shed.

District Judge George Conner was told the St Bernard dog being kept in the back yard and had a filthy pot for its food dish.

A veterinary surgeon confirmed the animals had either suffered unnecessarily due to the state of neglect and excessive overcrowding.

Further examinations by a zoologist concluded that the reptiles were also in a severely dehydrated condition.

All of the animals were signed over to be rehomed, apart from one Yorkshire Terrier which went to one of Burns' relatives.

Defence barrister Patrick Taylor said Burns has mental health issues but had good intentions to look after the animals.

"She was motivated by the fact they were due to be put down, and took them in to avoid that fate," he submitted.

"But she was just unable to care for these animals properly," he said.

Imposing seven months imprisonment, Mr Conner suspended the term for 12 months.

He told Burns: "You have to look after yourself and make that your priority, do not be taking in any animal because these are serious matters."

The judge then also ordered her to pay £253 in legal costs, and a further £500 towards a bill of nearly £3,000 for treating the animals.

Belfast Telegraph


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