Man cried at seeing his 49 dogs taken away from him by animal enforcement

Court hears proceedings against Philip Borg over charges of keeping animals in substandard condition

A court has heard how an animal lover from Balzan who is accused of keeping 49 dogs and several exotic birds in substandard conditions, had to watch as his beloved canines were taken away, one by one, by the Animal Welfare Department.

This emerged as police inspector Robert Said Sarreo testified before Magistrate Audrey Demicoli in proceedings against Philip Borg on charges of keeping animals in substandard condition.

“He regarded the animals as his children. He was on the verge of tears as they were being taken away.” The dogs were in small cages, the policeman said. “He told us he had somewhere else to keep them – a disused factory in Mriehel. I had told [Former Chief Veterinary Officer] Anthony Gruppetta why not give him a week’s time to improve the conditions?”

But Gruppetta had insisted that he wanted to finish the job, the Inspector said, also confirming that Gruppetta had never visited the site.

Former Animal Welfare Commissioner Emanuel Buhagiar also testified during the sitting.

He recalled how, on the 21st August 2012, he had been informed by a colleague that there was going to be an inspection at a property in Balzan and was asked to join.

The accused’s wife, Mary, had answered the door as the accused was not in and had explained that the dogs belonged to her husband. When Borg eventually returned, Buhagiar – at the time a junior staff member – and veterinary doctor Chetcuti Ganado had also arrived.

There was some verbal resistance but they were eventually allowed in. “I stayed outside, as many people were there as well as a lot of dogs running around.”

Borg could only watch helplessly as his 49 dogs were taken out, one by one, by Animal Welfare Department staff. A receipt was issued for every animal, said the witness, adding that one of the dogs had subsequently died while in the care of AWS.

The dogs, which were taken to Ghammieri, appeared to be in very good health except one who Philip had said was a recently rescued stray which was being treated, Buhagiar said, but “the rest were bomba (in fantastic condition). They were well fed. The area was clean.” In addition to the dogs, a kestrel, an eagle and several parrots were also taken away by AWS.

“Our aim isn't to take people to court, our aim is to help things improve... I was just an animal welfare officer at the time and the Director was involved,” Buhagiar added.

“Ghammieri wasn’t equipped, and is not equipped to this day, to cater for so many animals. I had told the director that it would be better if Philip found another place for them instead of the AWD taking the dogs away.” The dogs were healthy, he repeated, “the only problem was the place they were being held in.”

Inspector Elton Taliana cross-examined the witness, asking whether he had seen anything that he thought was wrong.

“Had they been in a confined space it would have been, but there were a lot of people. I was outside for most of the time. At a point my curiosity got the better of me and I crossed the threshold into the house. I saw a couple of dogs and the birds. There was also one blind dog, which he had adopted from the streets.”

The case continues in January. Lawyer Jason Grima is defence counsel.

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