Woman banned from keeping animals for life after leaving cat to starve to death in filthy property

A woman has been banned from keeping animals for the rest of her life after she left her cat to starve to death.

Deborah Ferry's three-year-old tortoiseshell cat Megan was found dead in the living room of the property in Wallsend, North Tyneside. The 49-year-old had moved out and failed to return to feed her for four days.

The severely decomposing remains of another cat were also discovered behind a bath panel inside the address on Tynemouth Road.

North Tyneside Magistrates' Court heard how RSPCA inspector Kirsty Keogh-Laws visited the property on August 25 last year following concerns for the welfare of a cat living there.

When there was no reply at the house, she looked through the letter box and noted a strong smell, the presence of flies and rubbish strewn across the floor.

The path to the back of the property was also laden with mess and she could see the kitchen looked dirty and hazardous.

Although no cat was seen or heard, the inspector put food through the letterbox and sealed the front and back doors with tape, leaving a card for the occupant to call the RSPCA urgently.

Enquiries were made locally and the number of a potential owner - Deborah Ferry - was given to her. When she called the number, the mobile was answered by a man who said he didn’t know the defendant or anyone in Wallsend.

The following day the officer returned to the house. The tapes on both doors were still intact and a tortoiseshell cat could now be seen sitting on top of a shopping trolley in the living room.

Cat food and ice cubes were put through the letterbox and another note was left asking the occupant to contact the RSPCA.

The property was monitored on a daily basis and food and water was posted through the letterbox. The tapes remained sealed and on August 29 the police were called by RSPCA inspector Rowena Proctor to gain entry.

She told the court: "The smell through the letterbox was dreadful and there were a lot of flies buzzing at the window. Once the door was open, the smell was so much worse than expected. Flies seemed to be everywhere, hundreds of them.

"To the left of the front door was an old indoor cage base from a guinea pig cage, being used as a litter tray. This was very dirty with numerous piles of faeces.

"The cooker top was completely covered by dirty dishes. The kitchen bench was filthy and had empty tins of cat food, a very spoiled bowl of milk which had flies stuck into the solidified top and two pet food bowls with some old, dried food.

"The bedrooms were as messy and unclean as the rest of the property, again with bare floorboards, bare walls, cat faeces, general filth, food wrappers and stained mattresses.

"Entering the bathroom, it felt as though I was being swarmed by flies. Hundreds of them were in there and the dirty toilet had at least 20 flies floating in it."

The inspector described how she noticed a "cat-sized" hole in the side of the bath and pulled the panel off to find a black and white cat which had been dead for some time. The animal’s pelvic bones were visible and no eyeballs remained in the head.

She said: "Thousands of live fleas attached themselves to me once the panel was removed.

"I have dealt with a lot of flea ridden animals but I have never seen fleas to this extent. My trousers looked as though they were moving because they were almost completely covering me.

"When leaving the property, myself and police officers had to douse ourselves in a household flea spray that I had in my van."

Inspector Proctor found Megan dead on the floor beside the shopping trolley in the living room. She weighed just 1.85kg (4.1lb) when she was discovered.

A post mortem was carried out by the University of Liverpool’s pathology department and the findings showed that Megan had a portosystemic shunt which was affecting her liver function and food metabolism.

Stunted growth, lack of appetite and neurological signs would have occurred - all of which her owner should have sought veterinary attention for.

Ferry had also failed to seek veterinary help for Megan’s chronic flea infestation, which had caused her to suffer from inflamed skin and hair loss for several weeks.

Police enquiries were made and Ferry was arrested at an address in Wallsend later that day.

During her interview, Ferry described the living conditions as a "s**t hole" and said it had been like that for two to three months.

She said she was disgusted with herself and confirmed that she had neglected the cats but couldn’t afford the gas or electricity at the property and was staying with her partner.

Megan's prolonged, untreated skin disease had also caused distress and abnormal behaviour of excessive over grooming, including hair ingestion, although this could also have been triggered by hunger.

The report said Megan died due to starvation, in combination with her liver shunt.

Ferry, of Matfen Gardens, Howdon, pleaded guilty to three animal welfare offences at the court in North Shields on May 5.

A vet told the court how Megan had been starved and that this had been exacerbated by undiagnosed liver disease for which no treatment had been sought by her owner.

They said her skeleton was prominent and she was suffering from a "severe flea infestation with live adult fleas and a heavy crusting of flea faeces".

Ferry was sentenced to 12 months in prison suspended for 18 months and banned from keeping any animal for the rest of her life. She was ordered to pay £600 costs and a victim surcharge of £154.