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Deformed, emaciated pony ‘worst welfare case in 34 years’

A man has been sentenced to 14 months in prison after the Scottish SPCA found a deformed and emaciated pony in his care — described by a vet as the worst case he had seen in 34 years of practice.

Gary Stevens, 53, of Hallmoss Farm Inverugie, pleaded guilty at Peterhead Sheriff Court on Tuesday (September 10) to causing unnecessary suffering to the Shetland mare, as well as failing to provide adequate care for the Shetland and a donkey.

The SSPCA seized 45 other animals during the investigation, including horses, pigs, sheep, lambs, cats, dogs and terrapins.

The charity’s inspectors visited Hallmoss Farm near Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, in June 2018 after concerns were raised by a member of the public.

Stevens and his family were warned to improve the welfare of the animals in their care but later “hid” some of them, claiming they had been rehomed.

The charity investigated the animals’ disappearance and found them at another address where more ponies, including Shetland mare Itsy, were also discovered.

Itsy was found to have “severe issues” including being abnormally small with a “weak and deformed” back end. Her front hooves were so badly deformed the attending vet considered them beyond correction.

Her body condition was also poor as a result of pain and stress and she was put down immediately to avoid further suffering.

A donkey who was missing from Hallmoss Farm was also found at the address. She had not received the corrective farriery or veterinary attention demanded by an earlier care notice.

The donkey was taken into the ownership of the Scottish SPCA’s Aberdeenshire animal rescue and rehoming centre, where she was given corrective trimming, dental treatment and medicated baths for a skin condition. She made a full recovery and was successfully rehomed.

“In my 12 years as a Scottish SPCA inspector, this is one of the worst cases I have dealt with and I have never seen such disregard for animal welfare, said inspector Fiona McKenzie, who investigated the case.

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“We made every attempt to work constructively with Stevens and his family, including issuing statutory care notices to improve the welfare of their animals. They rebuffed this offer of support and were uncooperative.

“Ultimately, they attempted to hide the animals under the guise of them having been rehomed. This left us with no choice but to make a report to the Procurator Fiscal.”

She added that the SSPCA had worked closely with Aberdeenshire Council’s animal health and welfare team, which took its own case to the Procurator Fiscal.

Stevens was given the maximum sentence for each charge, totalling 18 months’ imprisonment, which was reduced to 14 because of the guilty plea.

In future, those found guilty of neglect could face even tougher penalties after the Scottish government announced plans to increase the maximum sentence for animal cruelty to five years’ imprisonment.

“We are very pleased the sheriff exercised the maximum punishment available to Stevens. We hope this will act as a deterrent to others and be just one of many examples of more consistent sentencing for those who are cruel to animals,” inspector Mckenzie said.

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