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Great Dane case costs RSPCA £35K

THE RSPCA spent more than £35,000 for looking after ten Great Danes whilst an unemployed woman who had housed them in a van could appeal against a previous court order banning her from keeping pets.

Marilyn O'Donavan, 36, and boyfriend Brendan Lynch, 44, travelled from London to Manchester with ten dogs crammed into their Austin Maestro van in October 2003 while they searched for somewhere to live.

In February this year, after a three-day hearing, they were banned from keeping animals as pets for five years and ordered to pay £150 each towards RSPCA costs after being convicted of 11 counts of causing unnecessary suffering to animals.

O'Donavan lost her appeal against conviction and sentence at the hearing earlier this month. A judge and two magistrates at an appeal court sitting in Bury said no reasonable person could have failed to appreciate that the dogs had suffered because of their confinement.

The court heard that it has cost the RSPCA £35,585 to care for the animals since they were taken in 18 months ago. The charity was not able to re-home the dogs until court proceedings had finished. One dog died during this time.

His Honour Mr Recorder Jones QC said it would be impossible for the RSPCA to claim back the £35,585 from O'Donavan, who is not believed to be claiming any benefits.

The cost of expert veterinary fees in relation to the dogs, totalling £3,740, will be met by the taxpayer via central government funds.

The couple, who denied the charges, had claimed they had been forced to flee London after their home was attacked by arsonists and "had no other option" but to keep the dogs in the van.

They spent at least five nights sleeping in the van with the Great Danes as they looked for accommodation in Manchester after their journey. One of the animals was a puppy, but the rest were adults.

Staff at a hostel in Ardwick alerted the RSPCA after discovering the dogs in the van parked outside and noticing an ``horrendous'' smell coming from the vehicle.

O'Donavan, who gave her address as Kildare Crescent, Rochdale, at the last court hearing, but who is now believed to be living in Surrey, was not at the appeal. She left a message on her solicitor's answering machine saying she was in hospital with two broken legs and a dislocated shoulder.

The bench decided to carry on in her absence after her legal team spent the morning in a failed attempt to contact her.

They were unable to find out which hospital she was in or to confirm with police that she had been the victim of an attack.

Lynch dropped his appeal some weeks ago.

A vet had told magistrates at the couples' previous court appearance that seven out of 10 of the dogs had been suffering from bite wounds.

RSPCA chief inspector Peter Barrett said he was glad the case had finally come to an end and that the nine remaining dogs could now be re-homed.