Farm couple fined following death of dog

Joseph Bulmer

Pet owners left it ‘too long’ to seek veterinary attention

A VETERINARY surgeon and her sheep farmer husband have been fined �200 each after their pet dog was discovered close to death on a Bishops Nympton farm.

Julie and Derek Ayre’s 10-year-old collie had lost over half his body weight by the time an RSPCA inspector arrived at West Cenrty Farm on October 27 last year.

The animal welfare charity had received a tip-off the previous day after a visitor to the farm had called at the house to say he’d seen a “stray dog” in the yard. The visitor raised the alarm after Mr Ayre told him that the animal was in fact their pet dog “Patch”.

In a statement read out at North Devon Magistrates Court, inspector Marija Zwager said that on arrival at the farm, she found the dog lying lifeless in the yard.

“When I approached the dog he didn’t bark and when I spoke to him he didn’t raise my head to acknowledge my arrival.

“His eyes were cloudy and there was yellow discharge. When I stroked the dog he had no body fat and was emaciated.”

Mr and Mrs Ayre, both 58, were then interviewed separately under caution and the animal was then taken to the St David’s Veterinary Clinic in Exminster, where he was put down soon after to avoid further suffering.

By the time the dog arrived at the clinic, he was passing watery diarrhoea and was so weak, he had to be carried into the consultant’s room.

The court was told how he weighed around 11.9kg and that his normal weight should have been anywhere between 18 and 25kg.

Veterinary surgeon Anna Louise Newman estimated the animal had been “losing an unacceptable amount of weight for around two weeks before and should have received veterinary attention.”

For the prosecution, John Wyatt said that Mrs Ayre was a fully qualified veterinary surgeon and had also worked as an animal welfare officer at the University of Queensland, in Australia.

Reading Insp Zwager’s statement, he said that Mrs Ayre had realised the day before that Patch had lost a lot of weight but that he had never been a fat dog.

She told the inspector she had talked about getting the animal put down but her husband had said she was “giving up to quickly” and decided to try worming him instead.

Mr Ayre told the inspector that Patch had been chasing the quad bike in the yard that morning. He said that his eyes had been cloudy for at least 10 months and that his wife had presumed cataracts were the cause. He said that the dog normally ate two tins of dog food a day and a large bowl of dry mix every night. He said that he’d noticed the animal had been losing weight for the last couple of weeks but didn’t seek medical attention because his wife was a vet.

Defence lawyer Christopher Punt said the couple looked after between 600 and 700 sheep, as well as a pet cat. He said that although Mrs Ayre was qualified as a vet, she was employed full-time at the farm.

He said that as sheep farmers, the couple had never received any complaints and that local vets had given testimony to the couple’s care of animals, as had neighbours.

He said: “They have taken the matter very seriously and are devastated to be in court. They are well thought of in their neighbourhood and have no previous convictions. It would be harsh to deprive them of their livelihoods because of a case like this.

“It is not something that they would have willingly allowed to happen. The dog was becoming very elderly and I would suggest he had reached a stage where he was becoming a burden to them.

“This is a distressing case which raises the question of when is the right time to have a dog put down? Mrs Ayre thought it was the right time and Mr Ayre was perhaps a little more soft-hearted.

“If the inspector hadn’t had called, the matter would have been resolved in any event.

“The dog had reached the end of his days. He was thin but active and still had a quality of life on the farm. He went downhill quite quickly and the couple accept they left it a little too late.”

The couple pleaded guilty to two charges under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

As well as the �200 pound fines, magistrates also ordered them to each pay a �15 victim surcharge but decided not to ban the couple from keeping animals.

Speaking after sentencing, Insp Zwager said: “This is a classic case where people didn’t intentionally set out to cause harm to an animal but circumstances overtook them and they should have done something sooner.”