AN 83-YEAR-OLD woman was told she cannot own an animal for the next decade after 29 cats riddled with disease were seized from her Retford home.
The RSPCA had to force entry into Enid Richard's house on 4th January and found that her house was in an 'appalling' state and that her cats were suffering from a range of illnesses.
Officers found nearly 30 cats living in filthy conditions and suffering from painful disorders including the feline equivalent of AIDS as well as gingivitis, conjunctivitis and eye ulcers.
And at a hearing at Retford Magistrates Court on Thursday last week, Richard was told she would not be able to keep, own or maintain any animal until she is 94 years old.
"Officers said there was an over-powering smell of ammonia and faeces and described it as 'appalling'," said David Payne, prosecuting. "The carpets were disintegrating through rot by urine and there was large amounts of faeces."
Richard's cats were scratching themselves and were sneezing and coughing.
"Due to these conditions it was decided that the cats should be removed as soon as possible," said Mr Payne.
After the 29 cats were examined by a vet, 16 had to be put down and the others had to be treated for their illnesses. A vet claimed that some of the cats could have endured painful suffering for up to six months.
Mr Payne said that Richard accepted full responsibility for the cats and said that she had looked after cats for the last 25 years and 'had never been without one'.
"She thought that the important thing was for the cats to feed, as it is common for cats to stop eating when they are ill," said Mr Payne.
The court also heard that many of the cats had been locked in a front bedroom without access to water.
"She was offered a caution but declined so a prosecution was brought to prevent the future possibility of suffering for other cats and to secure the cats that were removed so that they could be re-homed," said Mr Payne.
The court heard that in 2000, Richard was involved in a similar case while living in Leeds where she took action against the Royal Society who recovered 50 cats from her home in a similar condition.
But Ian Pridham, defending, said that she just wanted to help unwanted animals by taking them into her home.
"This is an unfortunate case. She is a widow who lost her husband in 2003," said Mr Pridham.
"His death was sudden but one of the last things he did say to her before he passed away was to look after the cats because, between them, they had had cats for the last 25 years."
"All of the cats she had had been abused or abandoned or unwanted and it seems to me that they were victims of her own love of cats and her attempts to do the best for them."
Mr Pridham went on to say that his client had experienced ill health since taking on the cats. She had pneumonia in 2006 and suffered a fall a year later and had to use a walking stick.
"But she has provided as best as she could for the cats – that's who she is," said Mr Pridham. "She found it very difficult when the cats were taken from her. She took the view that she received these cats and was loathe to let someone else to take over that responsibility, whether through pride or love."
He added: "Such has been her love and devotion to cats that she is terrified of a future without one. They have become her companions, they have become her life."
Magistrates concluded that Richard is unable to care for her pets to a satisfactory standard.
"We don't think this has been a malicious intent not to provide care for the cats," said magistrate Jane Bush. "But at your age and health, you misguided proper care for the cats," said Mrs Bush.
Magistrates handed Richard a deprivation order, which means that the cats that are still alive can be signed over to the RSPCA and be re-housed. She was also told she cannot keep, own or maintain an animal for 10 years.
RSPCA inspector Tina McAdam, who was involved in taking the cats away from Richard, said that she is happy now that the animals can be re-homed.
"Our biggest concern was that Mrs Richard is no longer able to look after and care for cats," said Insp McAdam.
"This was never about punishing Richard, we wanted a better life for the cats involved. The cats will now be able to go to a good home and to people who want them."
There are 13 cats looking for a new home and anyone interested in offering a loving home to any of the cats can contact Insp McAdam on 0300 1234 999.
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