Susan Alison Shears, 74, of Gowdall, Goole, East Riding of Yorkshire, was found guilty of seven animal welfare offences relating to donkeys Dora and Daisy, and mule Ebony, at a hearing at Beverley Magistrates’ Court on 3 August. At the same hearing her son, John Shears, 39, of Rawcliffe, Goole, pleaded guilty to four offences. They were sentenced on 11 October at Hull Magistrates’ Court.
An RSPCA spokesman said the charity and the Donkey Sanctuary offered to help the pair in 2016, and made multiple visits between 2016 and 2019 during which they advised on actions needed to safeguard the welfare of the animals – but this was “ignored” and the situation “remained unchanged”.
When an RSPCA inspector and a Donkey Sanctuary welfare adviser attended a field at Field Lane, Gowdall, on 13 August 2019, Dora, Daisy and Ebony were found in a field full of ragwort, and littered with barbed wire and fallen wire netting.
“An old, disused work container which the animals had access to was completely unsuitable as a shelter. It was too small and had sharp edges and canvas straps still attached inside which the animals could have become caught on,” said an RSPCA spokesman, adding that all three animals had had overgrown teeth and hooves and were in need of dental and farriery treatment.
“The animals also did not have access to any hard standing within their living environment. It’s important for donkeys to have access to hard standing to protect their feet from wet and muddy conditions and to prevent infections. Their water supply was wholly inadequate and dirty with an accumulation of algae.”
On 19 August 2019 the charities returned to the field with the police, who forced entry using bolt cutters and gave the charities and an independent vet permission to examine the animals.
“Dora was suffering from laminitis and Ebony from ulceration to the soft tissues of her mouth from inadequate dental care that would have caused her discomfort when eating,” said RSPCA inspector Thomas Hutton, who led the investigation.
“The vet advised the animals should be removed from the site as they were either suffering or likely to suffer if they remained.”
Daisy, Dora and Ebony were taken into police possession and passed into the care of the RSPCA. They were transported to a nearby holding base funded by the Donkey Sanctuary, where they received urgent dental and farriery treatment.
“Sadly, Ebony was put to sleep on veterinary advice due to her ongoing suffering from her dental issues. Dora and Daisy have responded well to treatment, but due to their age and ongoing care needs they may need to remain in the Donkey Sanctuary care for the rest of their lives,” said the RSPCA spokesman.
Donkey Sanctuary’s head of welfare Hannah Bryer added: “We had previously attended this location alongside the RSPCA and engaged with the owners regarding Ebony and a donkey. We discussed the changes that needed to be made to ensure the environment was safe and suitable for the animals.
“On a repeat visit, we found Ebony with Daisy and Dora living at the same location that was detrimental to their welfare, it was clear our advice had not been followed.”
In mitigation Susan Shears “blamed others” for the situation, and the court heard John Shears was “remorseful”.
At sentencing, Susan Shears was given a lifetime disqualification from keeping equines, which cannot be appealed for 10 years. She was ordered to pay £3,000 costs. John Shears was banned from keeping equines for 10 years, which cannot be appealed for five, and ordered to pay £700 costs. The pair were each sentenced to 12 weeks’ imprisonment, suspended for 18 months.
The court issued a deprivation order for the ownership of the donkeys to be handed over to the RSPCA. The defendants have 21 days to appeal.
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