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Five year animal ban for couple who kept guinea pigs in a vivarium with rotting fruit

Five year animal ban for couple who kept guinea pigs in a vivarium with rotting fruit

A couple from North Yorkshire who failed to treat their pets for ear infections, skin diseases and flea infestations, has been disqualified from keeping animals for five years.

Mark Cooper and Jade Nichols both admitted they had failed to meet the needs of their animals after they were prosecuted by the RSPCA for neglecting them. 

Two of the pets, guinea pigs called Casper and Autumn, were found living in a glass vivarium littered with rotting fruit and no obvious ventilation.

At a sentencing hearing at Teesside Magistrates Court on Tuesday 30 April, Nichols and Cooper were also given 12-month community orders and told to carry out 15 RAR days and 80 hours unpaid work.        

The court heard that RSPCA Animal Rescue Officer Shane Lynn had visited the couple’s house at Brookside in Boosbeck, Saltburn, on 1 September last year in response to animal welfare concerns which had been reported to the charity.

He found Paris, an 11-year-old French bulldog who was deaf, blind and only had one eye, lying in a bed in the kitchen. She had severe thickening to the inside of her ears, ‘cherry eye' and noticeable reddening on her feet where she had been chewing them. 

In written evidence to the court the RSPCA officer said: "I then saw two Persian cats in a small bathroom, there was a smell of ammonia and the litter tray was dirty. Upon stroking a grey cat called Lady, it was obvious that she was underweight. 

"Her spine and ribs could be easily felt and Nichols told me that this cat had had two kittens a few months ago but was not producing milk so they died at four weeks-old. 

"The second cat, Abbey, was also thin which could be easily felt when stroking her. She had fur loss on the side of her body and her skin felt scabby. She also had a wound on her right shoulder and I was told this was caused by the other cat and had happened a few days ago.

"In the living room I saw a glass vivarium in the corner with the sliding door closed and no obvious ventilation. This housed two guinea pigs called Casper and Autumn. I could see rotting fruit inside on the floor and the water bottle had fallen over so they were unable to drink from it. 

"I opened the door and stuck my head inside. The smell of the rotting fruit on the bottom was quite overpowering and the heat inside the vivarium was very noticeable.”

The court was told the officer was shown some ear drops, a bottle of flea spray and an online order for ‘ear mite blaster,' but Nichols confirmed that neither of the cats or the dog had seen a vet for their health problems. It was explained to her that there were concerns about the animals' health and welfare and she agreed for them to be taken for veterinary treatment.

Cooper was also spoken to about the animals via mobile phone. He said Paris was registered with the PDSA and that he had steroids for her which had been issued during the Covid pandemic but she hadn't actually been to a vet. The bottle of medication was later seen by a different RSPCA officer, the label faded and still half full. 

The animals were taken for veterinary treatment where it was confirmed that Abbey, Lady and Paris were in a suffering state and the guinea pigs were likely to suffer if their circumstances didn't change. They were all taken into the possession of the police, with their ongoing care being transferred to the RSPCA. 

A vet who gave written evidence to the court said the severity of Paris' symptoms were such that her illnesses had been ignored ‘for years' and Nichols and Cooper had failed to protect her from pain, suffering, injury and disease. She said she was already blind and mostly deaf and her remaining eye was so badly damaged that it would need removing for her to live comfortably, as would both ear canals.

She said her condition was so poor that it was in her best interest to be humanely put to sleep, to which Nichols gave her consent.

Both cats had active flea infestations, hair loss and scabs. Abbey also had a 2 cm abscess on her neck, likely caused by scratching herself from fleas. They both put on a kilo - almost half their weight - once they received the appropriate care. 

The couple were interviewed about what had happened by RSPCA Clare Wilson. They told her someone was coming round regularly to treat the animals for fleas and worms and they had tried to get the cats seen at a number of local vets but no-one had any appointments. 

Enquiries revealed that the vet practice where Nichols said they were registered hadn't been contacted to see the cats and would have booked them in if asked to do so. The PDSA had last had contact with the couple in May 2021 when the steroids had been prescribed for Paris' ear infection, but they had not spoken to either Cooper or Nichols since.    

The couple were also ordered to pay £200 in costs and a victim surcharge of £114. Both of them cannot appeal their disqualification order for three years.

By early November, Abbey and the two guinea pigs had reached a healthy weight, the court was told. Lady still had some to gain, but the vet who examined her said she was confident she would continue to progress well in her new home. The cats' fur had regrown completely and their flea allergies had also cleared up.

Abbey and Lady were successfully rehomed by the RSPCA Cat Rehoming Hub, which finds loving new homes for cats and kittens in the Tees Valley, County Durham and North Yorkshire areas. The guinea pigs were also cared for by the RSPCA's Great Ayton Animal Centre and have also been adopted together in a new home.