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Cruel Angus couple narrowly avoid jail for shocking neglect of pet dog and cats

John Stewart and Cynthia Stewart leave Forfar Sheriff Court.
John and Cynthia Stewart leave Forfar Sheriff Court. Image: DCT Media.

A “cruel” Angus couple whose pets had to be euthanised after their “appalling neglect” have narrowly avoided imprisonment.

Remorseless John and Cynthia Stewart’s dog Ben and cats Ruff and Tumble have all been put to sleep since Scottish SPCA investigators raided their rural home.

Their flea-infested pets were taken to a vet immediately upon being discovered and Ben and Tumble were quickly assessed as needing to be put down.

The Scottish SPCA confirmed despite Ruff being “slightly” better when he was rescued, a cancer diagnosis meant he too has now been put to sleep.

Neither John, 62, or Cynthia, 61, offered any mitigation in court.

Both were sentenced to 200 hours of unpaid work, reduced from the maximum community sentence of 300 hours due to the timing of their guilty pleas.

The couple were both made subject to 18 months of supervision and were banned from keeping animals for a decade.

John Stewart and Cynthia Stewart leave Forfar Sheriff Court.
John Stewart and Cynthia Stewart leave Forfar Sheriff Court.

That ban did not come into effect until Friday and it was revealed in court since their animals had been removed, the Stewarts had begun caring for their son’s cat so had to return it that night.

Investigated after tip-off

At Forfar Sheriff Court, fiscal depute Jill Drummond explained a complaint had been lodged with the Scottish SPCA’s helpline at 8.30am on February 28.

An inspector visited the Stewarts’ home in Chapelton of Menmuir near Edzell.

Inside, they found a 17-year-old border collie lying on the floor by the fire and two male cats on the deep windowsill.

All three animals were taken to The Crofts Veterinary Centre in Brechin “as soon as possible” to be examined.

The vets found border collie Ben was just 15.3kg – he should have been between 18 and 20kg.

He was riddled with fleas and flea dirt and suffering from skin excoriations, deemed likely to be from itching.

Ben the collie. Image: Scottish SPCA.

Ben had severe alopecia and little muscle and his nails were curled, with some growing into his pads.

His skin was described as being very thickened except an open wound through which vets could see his femur.

Ms Drummond explained the vet thought this was from the excoriations.

Ben’s body condition was given a score of 1/5.

The vet said the level of alopecia would have taken at least a month to develop and Ben should have been taken to the vet earlier.

It was the vet’s assessment failure to do so amounted to neglect.

Cats suffered too

Both cats were also examined at the Park Road practice.

Seven-year-old Tumble was given a body condition score of 2/5 and also suffered alopecia and skin excoriations.

He had flea dirt throughout his coat and a heart murmur was detected.

The cats had to be put down

Tumble was given an ultrasound due to a bladder issue which had caused him to be pot-bellied.

The cat was unable to fully empty its bladder.

The vet said Tumble’s flea infestation should have been treated and must have been bothering the cat for at least a fortnight.

The couple appeared at Forfar Sheriff Court.

Ruff, who was also seven years old had similar skin and flea issues.

The Stewarts claimed they had used store-bought flea treatment which had not worked but sought no further intervention.

Post mortems find other issues

After the vet’s analysis, it was agreed Ben and Tumble would be euthanised and Ruff would be taken to the Scottish SPCA’s base in Angus.

Post mortems concluded Ben’s condition would have been “easily identifiable” to anyone who saw him.

An ulcer found on his right hip was a result of lying on a hard surface for a long period and would have taken days to weeks to develop.

Ben would have suffered from distress for days to weeks and from arthritis for months to years.

No mitigation offered by callous pair

Having previously pled guilty to neglecting the three animals, both Stewarts appeared to be sentenced last week.

They admitted neglecting Ben between January 28 and February 28 last year, and neglecting the cats between February 14 and February 28.

Both represented themselves in the dock and when asked, neither offered any mitigation.

Sheriff Krista Johnston said: “These matters are very serious and I take them very seriously.

“This was a prolonged, appalling, offensive, avoidable way to treat these animals, supposedly in your care.

“It’s inconceivable you didn’t notice.

“It appears to me you were cruel and neglectful.

“You’ve shown no remorse, no insight into the ways these animals were treated and no realisation of the pain and suffering they must have undergone.”

The sheriff said it was only because neither accused had a record they avoided imprisonment.

She added the ten-year ban on keeping pets was for “the future protection of animals.”

Third pet put down

Scottish SPCA inspector Karen Cooper said: “We are pleased that the Stewarts received a ban and supervision order, given the severity of neglect that Ben, Ruff and Tumble experienced.

“Their sheer disregard for the welfare of their animals was shocking.

“Although Ruff was in a slightly better condition than Ben and Tumble, upon being transferred to one of our centres for further care and attention it was discovered that he had a cancerous tumour.

“The difficult decision was therefore made to put him to sleep on veterinary advice.”

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