A distraught couple have had their pet of 11 years taken off them after an RSPCA prosecution.
Wigan magistrates heard that Gareth Hodson and Rachel Wilkes, stopped taking their terrier Bob to the vets for treatment for a skin and eye condition, because they couldn’t afford the costs and were having to use food banks.
But they had completely stopped co-operating with the RSPCA over his continuing care at the beginning of this year.
The family of four had seen their domestic budget slashed after a re-assessment of 34-year-old Hodson’s sickness benefit entitlement. He admitted that in recent months he had only taken the 12-year-old Patterdale out for walks in darkness because he was so ashamed of its “chronic” skin and eye condition and didn’t want Bob observed by the public.
But defence solicitor Ged Fraser argued the couple loved Bob and home video was available of them playing enthusiastically with the terrier.
They had continued treating him at home, he said, with existing specialist shampoos, creams and medications prescribed during the half dozen veterinary visits they made with Bob before the new year.
But they became victims of changes to state benefits in the controversial shake-up ordered by former Tory Department for Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan-Smith.
Tony Stock, prosecuting for the society, said that when the terrier was taken to the charity’s vet Sean Taylor, he found the dog suffering from chronic fur loss on its back, rear end and muzzle.
Because an illness was preventing Bob making tears, the “abrasive” action of the eyelids was also damaging the cornea and both eyes had a green mucus discharge present.
The underlying disease process was allowing a secondary bacterial infection to take hold; while scabbing showed the terrier had been repeatedly scratching itself because of the irritation it was suffering. His ears were hot to the touch, demonstrating that his body was fighting infection.
But Bob’s condition was now said to be much improved because of the effects of the steroids, eyedrops and antibiotics he had been prescribed since becoming a ward of the animal charity.
The vet found that Bob had been subject to “suffering, chronic in nature” for weeks or months because of the neglect of Hodson and Wilkes.
Hodson and 25-year-old Wilkes, of Durham Street, Whelley, were each told to pay £300 in fines and costs and were also banned from keeping any other animals for five years.
They pleaded guilty to two counts each of failing to protect Bob from pain, injury or suffering by not maintaining adequate veterinary treatment of him. But were each only sentenced for the first.
The society stepped in to take the dog into care in September so that it could receive veterinary care, after a complaint to it by a worried neighbour.
Mr Stock said the RSPCA had been forced into making the prosecution because the couple wouldn’t speak with its inspector Susie Micallef, despite her repeated attempts to make contact with them to check on Bob since early February.
It had been involved with the terrier’s welfare since July 2015.
Bob would require long term quite expensive treatment maybe for the rest of his life to thrive, he said.
But Mr Fraser said that because the skin condition “came, went and then came again” and the dog appeared to be happy in itself, the couple hadn’t believed it was as serious as it had been.
Their two young children had been told, after Bob was made a ward of the RSPCA, that he was “in hospital getting better.”
And because they had been allowed family visits, sometimes weekly, to see him at the RSPCA centre, they had believed he may be “allowed home by Christmas.”
Mr Fraser said: “This couple have done their level best to look after the dog and the suggestion that they are responsible for deliberate neglect is just not right or correct.
“It was only though lack of funds that they had to stop taking the dog to the vet’s.”
The presiding magistrate ordered that Bob be taken into care despite the loud weeping protests by the couple.
He said: “This is certainly quite a sad case for the bench to consider.
“I don’t think that you deliberated neglected the dog...but unfortunately the dog was neglected.”
He ordered that the £420 RSPCA vets bill be paid from central funds.
The couple will pay the fine and costs at £5 per week each.