A woman who neglected cats, kittens and other animals has been banned from keeping pets – but can keep her dogs.
Three of the cats found dead at Michelle Smith’s home were kittens and the 36-year-old also mistreated ducks and chickens.
A good Samaritan called a hotline and inspectors discovered animals at Smith’s home were either dead or extremely thin as they had not eaten in up to six weeks.
At Aberdeen Sheriff Court, she admitted five counts of animal neglect between June and August last year – but Sheriff Sukhwinder Gill rejected the Procurator Fiscal’s call for Smith to be prevented from keeping all animals and instead let her keep her eight dogs. She cannot keep any other pets for 10 years.
Depute fiscal Linzi Soutar told the court how Scottish SPCA inspectors visited the farm steading property in Aberchirder on August 28 last year after receiving a call to their hotline from a concerned member of the public.
They found a rabbit hutch containing two dead kittens and eight underweight, hungry kittens. Inspectors also found a caravan with a dead kitten and two dead cats inside, along with seven cats and six kittens without food or clean water.
They found two dead ducks, five “very thin” ducks and 11 chickens which had no access to food. In total, there were 14 kittens, 11 chickens, seven cats and five ducks found alive. Two cats, three kittens and two ducks were found dead. There was a total of 63 animals, including 19 dogs.
Ms Soutar said: “The hutch had a strong smell of faeces and urine. The kittens were clawing at the mesh of the hutch, trying to get out.
“There were three dishes. One contained dirty food and the other two contained faeces.
“There was no cat litter and the inspectors described the conditions as ‘nothing short of disgusting’.”
Conditions in the caravan were similar, the court heard, and Smith told inspectors the ducks in the house had died as some of the dogs had got into that room and mauled them to death earlier that day.
In sharp contrast to the cats, ducks and chickens, which were found to be very thin, hungry and suffering from health problems, 19 dogs found on the land were seen to be in good health, the court heard.
The Scottish SSPCA removed all the animals from the property except the dogs.
“All the cats were underweight and some had chronic eye issues as well as ear mites and varying degrees of matting. They were dehydrated and some were extremely thin and emaciated,” said Ms Soutar.
Defence agent Peter Keene told the court Smith had admitted wrongdoing. Mr Keene said Smith and her partner originally had two cats but a feral cat came on to their land, gave birth and abandoned her kitten and the number of cats at the property grew.
“My client’s partner lost his job and became depressed. He remained in bed all day and all the care of the property, the cats, dogs, ducks and chickens – and her own three young children – fell in the lap of my client,” he said.
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The court heard Smith, whose address was given as Aberchirder, has children aged nine, five and four and has no previous convictions.
Mr Keene added: “It was a relief when the authorities came to visit. She had no hesitation in giving up the animals to the Scottish SPCA.
“She got into a terrible position and fully admitted botching up.”
Sheriff Gill asked: “If things were so bad, why did she not contact them herself?”
Mr Keene said: “She was busy performing other duties while her partner was depressed, though it would have been a sensible solution.
“There were 19 dogs and there are now eight. The plan is to reduce that number to six.”
Sheriff Gill said: “This is a very upsetting case for many people in this court to hear the details of, including myself.”
She also told the court: “The report illustrates you were struggling to look after your three children and the animals, not helped by your partner becoming unemployed. You have shown regret and remorse for the level of harm you have caused to these animals.”
Sheriff Gill ordered Smith back to court on August 6, when she will examine how Smith has treated her dogs.
She added: “I don’t intend to admonish you on that date. There will be a punishment.”
Commenting on the investigation and court case, Scottish SPCA senior inspector Alison Simpson said: “After receiving a call to our animal helpline regarding welfare concerns I arrived at the locus and was met by three dogs. I noticed a residential caravan which was not used as a residence but rather had cats in pens at the rear interior.
“Opposite the house I saw a rabbit hutch where kittens could be heard.
“I first asked Smith if I could look in the rabbit hutch where I heard the kittens, it was a two story hutch and stank of faeces and urine. The kittens were clawing and climbing at the mesh front. Within the hutch there were eight small kittens alive, around four/five weeks old, all were extremely thin, dirty and wet. There were also three dead kittens which appeared to be emaciated.
“After removing the kittens from the hutch and placing them in my van we then entered the caravan and the stench and presence of cat urine and faeces was overwhelming. On initial inspection I noted one kitten running loose and two areas within the caravan which were pens with mesh doors. I also noticed one dead kitten within one of the pens.
“Venturing back outside I noticed four runs containing poultry, in total seven ducks and eight hens, along with two dead ducks. Smith then stated one of the dogs had got into the run that morning which may account for the deaths. The dead ducks appeared extremely thin.
“Upon veterinary examination it was noted that the caravan contained a considerable amount of faeces, both in the litter tray and on the floor which had built up over a period of a minimum of three weeks with little ventilation. There was no food or water available to the cats inside.
“On an initial inspection of the first caravan room and the seven cats inside they were all noted as being underweight, some severely, and there was evidence of chronic eye issues, gingivitis, ear mites and varying degrees of matting/build-up of faeces. The deceased kitten was in an extremely emaciated state.
“Within the second room of the caravan there was another deceased kitten. This room was in a similar state to the first room in the caravan, with faecal matter covering the room and cats. The six kittens in this room were underweight and the deceased kitten was in an extremely thin/emaciated state.
“Once the vet had examined the kittens which had been removed from the rabbit hutch they were found to be in poor body condition and covered faeces and urine. The kittens all had dirty ears and ear mites.
“All poultry examined at the locus were significantly underweight with two being deceased. Two of the hens were quiet, and hunched over, indicating illness. The vet believed the birds had not had their nutritional requirements met for a minimum of seven days. The ducks were in the same condition, two were kept in a pen by themselves as Smith stated they had been injured by a dog earlier on that day. There was a wound on one of the ducks which had scabbed over. We requested food to aid us examining the birds and when we gave this to them, they were ravenous.
“After being removed, the animals were thoroughly examined by a vet and later taken to one of our rehoming centres.
“Smith fully cooperated with our investigation and signed the animals which were removed over to the Society. This meant we were able to rehome them once they had made full recoveries and did not have to wait for sentencing before doing so.
“This is a shocking case of neglect which did not happen overnight and could have been easily avoided. I’m happy the courts have dealt with this case and this sentence handed out, with a further sentence to come in six months.”