An unlicensed dog breeder was forced to give up two rescued pets after she became the first to have a private prosecution brought against her by an animal charity.
Nicola Palmer, 39, of Kesgrave, Suffolk, was taken to court by Phoenix Rehoming after she breached her adoption contract by failing to neuter her male and female dog brought to the UK from Romania.
Palmer had no licence to breed the dogs but allowed them to have a litter of nine puppies, five of which were sold for £300 each. The remaining dogs were given to family members.
Animal welfare chiefs said the case reflected how "growing numbers" of people were looking to cash in on rising demand for puppies exacerbated during the coronavirus pandemic.
Phoenix Rehoming, which spotted that Palmer's female dog Esme was pregnant at the age of 10 months, sought help from the charity Animal Protection Services which organised the private prosecution.
Ms Palmer was accused of three counts of theft relating to the two adult dogs and the litter, and breeding dogs without a licence.
She gave back the adult dogs when she was served with the summons at her home three days before Christmas and was allegedly told the police would be called if she did not comply.
The theft charges were dropped at Suffolk magistrates court in Ipswich last Wednesday, in return for her pleading guilty to not having a breeding licence.
Ms Palmer who is on benefits was given a conditional discharge, and ordered to pay £230 towards the estimated £11,000 costs of the prosecution, and a £21 victim surcharge.
A spokesperson for Animal Protection Services which investigates and prosecutes animal cruelty said: "We believe this is the first ever private prosecution relating to an unlicensed dog breeder.
"We have found that there are a growing number of people cashing in on the huge demand for puppies caused by the coronavirus pandemic and people spending more time at home.
"While this case related to a woman who had broken the condition of adopting dogs, there are also organised crime groups who are getting involved in breeding. Many groups are switching from drugs to puppies because there is so little enforcement.
"The law about licensing breeders is supposed to be enforced by local authorities, but they have only brought a handful of cases.
"We are in the process of bringing a further seven private prosecutions of people involved in unlicensed breeding."
Anyone making more than £1,000 a year from dog breeding has to have a local authority licence, although the requirement is not enforced for the breeding of family pets.
The law introduced in 1999 to crack down on puppy farms was strengthened in 2018 when a licence became compulsory for anyone breeding three or more litters a year, even if not for profit, instead of the previous limit of five.
Ms Palmer who lives in Kesgrave, Suffolk, made a donation of £530 to the charity for the pups.
She said: "It wasn't made clear to me when I took on the dogs that the charity still owned them even though I had paid for them. I had all their paperwork and passports showing they had been imported from Romania so in my mind, they were entirely mine.”