Suspended sentence for Merseyside couple who let dog starve to death [Warning: upsetting images]

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A couple from Merseyside were handed a suspended prison sentence and banned from keeping animals for 20 years after they left their Mastiff dog, Zeus, to starve to death.

Stephen O’Donnell and Rachel Foster were sentenced at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court on 26 March following an RSPCA investigation which started in July 2023, when the RSPCA received a report of an underweight, collapsed dog in their property’s garden.

Animal Rescue Officer (ARO) Hannah Yen, who attended the property, said, “The garden was overgrown and only a small area by the door was accessible. Mr O’Donnell said the dog was called Zeus, he was 22 months old and was a mastiff breed. I looked in the kennel, there were flies on the dog and the dog’s body condition was poor. I could see no chest movement.”

As it became clear that Zeus was dead, Mr O’Donnell said he planned to bury him; however, Yen took the body so it could be examined by a vet. According to ARO Yen, Mr O’Donnell told her that “he had put the dog out in the evening and when he checked on him the next morning (25 July) he found the dog was dead”.

The rescue officer passed the case over to RSPCA Inspector Caren Goodman-James. The investigation found that Zeus had been left without food or water, and a vet examination found no obvious cause of death other than emaciation caused by a lack of nutrition.

The vet report said: “On examination, the body was extremely thin. There were no symptoms of any obvious disorder or injuries which would cause death. Regardless of the cause of severe weight loss, a reasonable owner should have sought veterinary attention for the dog in that state.

“In my opinion Zeus was suffering prior to death due to hunger, weakness and fear. The process of weight loss was chronic – muscle and fat tissue loss was present which happens when the body starts using these tissues as an emergency resource of energy in the case of prolonged hunger. I can estimate the duration for approximately two months, but likely longer.”

The pair were both sentenced to 18 months imprisonment which was suspended for 12 months and ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work as well as 20 rehabilitation activity requirement days each. They were ordered to pay a £154 victim surcharge and were banned from keeping all animals for 20 years – which neither can appeal for 15 years.

Inspector Caren Goodman-James said, “This was a sad case involving the unnecessary death of a poor emaciated dog. We know that times can be tough with the cost of living crisis which may mean owners struggle to afford their pets but to allow a poor dog to starve as a result is incredibly cruel.

“We’d urge anyone who is struggling to reach out for help from friends and family, find a pet foodbank near you, ask a charity for advice and support, and always contact a vet immediately if you have concerns for the health of your pet.”

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