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Wednesday, 30 July 2014

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Animal welfare officers called to appalling scenes at Cumbrian farm

Horrified animal welfare officials found a couple sharing their filthy Cumbrian farmhouse with more than 70 dogs and 20 cats.

Police stumbled on scenes of appalling squalor when they visited the ramshackle farm near Aspatria which is the home of Robert Park, 54, and his 57-year-old wife Linda Faulder-Park.

Dozens of sheep, cattle, and pigs owned by the couple were in such poor condition they had to be destroyed.

But it was conditions inside the couple’s home that most shocked vets and the team of RSPCA inspectors who were called in to investigate. They found that the farmhouse had been transformed into a foul-smelling kennel for dozens of dogs, with the walls, floors and furniture covered in dog excrement.

Living as an indoor “feral pack,” the dogs – a mixture of collies and terriers – were left to fight over food, and 21 were in such poor condition that the RSPCA had to destroy them on welfare grounds.

Of the cats found in the house, two were already dead and a further 16 also had to be put to sleep.

The discovery of so many animals in the house and pigs, cattle, and sheep in dreadful conditions triggered a huge joint investigation by Cumbria Trading Standards and the RSPCA, which drafted in 10 inspectors from across the north west.

Describing the house, prosecution barrister Alison Whalley told district judge Gerald Chalk: “The conditions could only be described as appalling, and fit for neither man nor beast.”

At Carlisle Magistrates’ Court, the couple entered guilty pleas to animal welfare charges but the court accepted their crimes were the result of neglect, rather than a desire to cause suffering. They were given suspended 160 day jail sentences, banned from keeping any animals for life, and told to pay legal costs totalling £12,000 each.

Speaking after the case, RSPCA inspector Chris Towler told of the day in January this year when he and his fellow inspector Martyn Fletcher were called to the couple’s dilapidated Bridge Farm , at Low Row, Scales, near Aspatria.

He said: “The police had visited the farm on an unrelated investigation.

“Nothing could have prepared us for what we found inside this farmhouse.

“It was one of the worst scenes I have come across in my 27 years with the RSPCA. It wasn’t just the deprivation; it was the sheer number of domestic animals in there.

“There were 91 in total. As well as the 20 cats and 73 dogs, we found a duck, a cockerel, and a cockatiel.

“The conditions inside the house were appalling: Filthy and in a state of disrepair.”

The dogs – which included five puppies – were living in groups in various rooms. Only one of the rooms in the house, said Mr Towler, was fit for human habitation.

The weaker of the dogs were unable to compete for the food and water the couple were putting out.

The couple were unaware two of their cats were lying dead in one room. Four dogs were found locked in a dark barn, its floor covered in what Mr Towler described as a sludge of faeces and mud.

One of the dogs had learned to clamber up a fence so that it could drink water from a lopsided gutter.

Most of the cats were being kept in what RSPCA officials said were shocking conditions in a makeshift pen, its floor soaking wet.

In court, the couple’s barrister Keith Thomas explained that they had got into the habit of taking in stray dogs, some of which bred with others already in the house.

Linda Park suffered a disability and was unable to help her husband on the farm and because he worked elsewhere milking cows, had less time to care for the animals.

Mr Thomas conceded there were far too many animals for the couple to care for.

Mr Towler said he accepted that the Parks had not intentionally set out to cause suffering to their animals.

He added: “The whole situation was very sad in pure human terms.

“The house was generally filthy, and in my view not fit for habitation, for either this couple or their animals. They should have asked for help.

“Hopefully now they will get the help they need.”

The couple pleaded guilty to 10 charges brought by the RSPCA – two of causing unnecessary suffering, and the remainder of failing to provide adequately for the needs of their animals.

They also admitted six animal welfare offences relating to their 35 sheep, 36 pigs, and 45 cattle, all of which had to be destroyed.

Judge Gerald Chalk described the couple’s offences as “truly shocking,” saying: “I’m of the view it was due to you closing your eyes to the obvious and you chose to ignore it but it was not deliberate.” He added: “I don’t think it safe for you to care for animals in the future.”

Angela Jones, trading standards service manager with Cumbria County Council, said: “This has been a distressing case for all involved, not least Robert and Linda Park who were struggling to look after both themselves and their animals during the bitterly cold winter of 2011/12.

“It gives us no pleasure to see anyone lose the privilege to keep livestock or pets.

“But the severity of this sentence reinforces the clear duty on all owners to ensure the welfare of animals.”

The couple must also observe a 9pm and 6am curfew for the next six weeks.

Robert Park will be allowed to continue working as a milker on a local farm.

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