Megan died in a rubbish and faeces-strewn property infested with hundreds of flies
A woman who left her pet cat to starve to death in a filthy property after she moved out has been given a 12-week prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, and banned from keeping any animal for the rest of her life.
Three-year-old tortoiseshell cat Megan was found dead in the living room of the property in Tynemouth Road, Wallsend, after her owner Deborah Ferry failed to return to feed her for four days. The severely decomposing remains of another cat were also discovered behind a bath panel.
A vet who gave evidence in the case – which was brought by the RSPCA – said that Megan, who weighed just 1.85kg (4.1lb) when she was found, had been starved and that this had been exacerbated by undiagnosed liver disease for which no treatment had been sought by her owner.
Ferry (DoB 23/06/73), who admitted three animal welfare offences when she appeared before North Tyneside Magistrates’ Court on 5 May, had also failed to seek veterinary help for her pet’s chronic flea infestation which had caused Megan to suffer from inflamed skin and hair loss for several weeks.
The court heard how RSPCA inspector Kirsty Keogh-Laws had visited the property on 25 August last year following concerns for the welfare of a cat living there.
There was no reply at the house, although looking through the letterbox, the officer 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 the officer 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, although 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 charity’s officers continued to monitor the property on a daily basis and post food and water through the letterbox. The tapes remained sealed and on 29 August 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 officer 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.
“Thousands of live fleas attached themselves to me once the panel was removed,” said the inspector. “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.
Police enquiries were made and Ferry was arrested at an address in Wallsend later that day.
Magistrates heard evidence from the vet who 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.”
A post mortem was also carried out by the University of Liverpool’s pathology department. 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.
Her 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.
“The suffering from the combination of these three elements, starvation, liver shunt and skin disease would have caused a progressively more intense degree of suffering until she succumbed,” said the vet. “The presence of another deceased cat found in the property indicates that the lack of care to animals under the owner’s care was not an isolated incident.”
During her interview, Ferry – who was also ordered to pay £600 costs and a victim surcharge of £154 – 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.
Speaking after the conclusion of the court case, inspector Proctor said: “This was an extremely upsetting case to investigate. The conditions inside the house were horrendous and the amount of flies and fleas were on a scale that I hadn’t seen before.
“No animal should ever be put in a position where they are left to fend for themselves. If people are struggling we would urge them to contact animal welfare charities for assistance and help with rehoming, rather than leaving their pets to suffer and die alone like poor Megan did.
“The RSPCA has a cost of living hub offering advice on what owners can do if they fall on hard times.”