GREYHOUND trainer and farmer Douglas Heard could be banned from keeping animals or jailed after admitting three counts of causing unnecessary suffering.
Exeter magistrates were told that Heard, 62, had allowed a lurcher puppy to become so emaciated it was near death, had allowed an aggressive ex-police dog to live in filthy conditions, and was keeping six wild rabbits in a tiny cage with no access to food.
The animals were discovered after Heard’s farm was raided by police and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on November 8 last year.
John Wyatt, prosecuting for the RSPCA, said they were trying to find evidence of the use of unlicensed drugs.
Police contacted the RSPCA after becoming concerned about the welfare of some of the animals they had seen.
Mr Wyatt said: “There were around 40 greyhounds at the farm in kennels but they were in good condition and officers had no concerns about them.
“An RSPCA officer did however find a young lurcher cross which was very subdued and nervous.
“A vet examined her and described her as skeletal with little muscle tissue. It had a severe illness and would have been suffering with it for two weeks. The vet said it had suffered from neglect which was almost terminal.
“The ex-police dog, Bear, was not approachable as it was so aggressive, but it was observed to be in a kennel and using bedding that was covered in dog waste.
“When interviewed, Heard said he had been out rabbiting the night before. He said he wanted to release the six rabbits on to his land to repopulate it after myxomatosis but he had been unable to do so because of the raid.
“However, a police officer at the scene said her view was they were going to be used as bait for the greyhounds because of where there were being kept.”
Heard said: “You probably think I was going to use the rabbits for the greyhounds but if I was doing that I would be struck off by the greyhound board.” One of the rabbits had died and Heard said this may have been due to feral cats.”
Mr Wyatt also gave evidence that Heard had injected the lurcher, Gracie, which has survived and been rehomed, with medication intended for pigs which he had “got from a mate in Ireland” and was unlicensed for dogs.
Clive Rees, defending, said Heard, of Pixies Laughter Cottages, Shillingford, had an excellent record.
He said: “He trains and races greyhounds for pleasure and they do not form part of the farm’s accounts.”
He receives regular inspections and there have been no concerns. To suggest that the greyhounds needed bait is wrong and they were going to be released.
“The lurcher had not displayed any signs of illness until two days before the raid when my client administered the medicine which he has found to be effective in the past.
“Only my client can look after Bear as he is a one-man dog. He came to my client, who feeds him and clears his kennel every day, after he bit somebody as a police dog and the police trusted him with Bear’s care. The dog may have got himself into more of a mess because of the excitement caused by Defra and the police.”
He added: “My client is extremely upset at having to plead guilty and accepted he made miscalculations. It brings personal shame because of the circles he moves in.
“He also has to care for his wife and I ask the court to consider that.”
The RSPCA has asked the court to consider banning Heard from keeping animals or certain types of animals. The case was adjourned until March 16 for sentencing and magistrates said that all options will be considered including custody.