Stacy Squires / Stuff
Michelle Louise Fox was released without conviction in Christchurch District Court earlier this week. (File photo)
A woman concerned about the welfare of four horses posed as an animal welfare inspector to trick unsuspecting owners into handing over the animals to her.
Michelle Louise Fox, 36, has been charged after claiming to be an official with the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) for getting her hands on horses in poor condition.
Fox, from Loburn to North Canterbury, described herself as an “animal rescuer”.
In August 2019, someone contacted her about efforts to repatriate horses in poor condition. Fox messaged the owner and when asked who she was, she claimed to be an MPI agent.
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“If you give me permission to retire this horse today, I will not sue you.” Let me know what you decide, âFox told the owner.
When the owner asked for proof that she belonged to MPI, Fox replied, âI’ll send you the court papers and see you there. “
The court messages and threats continued until the owner felt she had no choice but to return the horse. MPI told the court she is now trying to get Fox’s horse back.
When detectives investigated Fox, they found a message on his phone asking someone else to support the deception.
Fox was also one of three women who visited a property in Loburn in August 2019 and asked a resident if he was aware of a horse in distress on the property. When he questioned their right to be on the property, Fox told him, âI work for MPI and I have the right to be here.
Fox became increasingly agitated and confrontational when asked for ID or money order.
Another man, whose wife owned the horses, then arrived. Fox told him that she worked for MPI and that if he agreed to hand over the horses to her, no further action would be taken.
The man believed she was with MPI and agreed to relinquish ownership of three horses. He said Fox was very angry and kept pushing him until he agreed to hand over the horses.
According to MPI’s summary of facts, it is not disputed that the horses were in poor condition. âOne of them was in such a bad state that euthanasia was necessary to alleviate his suffering. “
When Fox appeared in Christchurch District Court this week, his lawyer, Sabrina Forrester, said his client felt remorse and believed what she was doing was in the best interests of the horses.
Crown Attorney Sean Mallett said the concern was Fox’s actions compromising the integrity of animal welfare officers.
Mallett accepted that the offense was not the result of anything malicious, but rather with the best interests of the horses in mind. “But there were better ways to ask for help for these horses.”
Judge Mark Callaghan said he understood Fox was driven by his desire to protect and care for animals, but said it was not the right way to go. He agreed to sentence her and release her, without inflicting further sanctions on her.