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Ban for man who starved dog
- Outrage at lenient sentence and fine -

A MAN who starved a German Shepherd Dog over a period of time, then dumped it in a city’s streets was banned by a court from owning any pet for five years last week.

However, the sentence was slammed as too lenient by the head of the SSPCA in Dundee, where the dog was dumped, leaving it at ‘death’s door’. The charity believed that the man should not have escaped a custodial sentence.

James Burns (30), of Albert Street, was disqualified from keeping any animal for five years and fined £200, for what staff at the Dundee Animal Welfare Centre called one of the worst cases of cruelty they had witnessed. To compound his offence, Burns had alerted the SSPCA to the dog’s plight, pretending to be a concerned member of the public.

As reported previously in OUR DOGS, when the severely emaciated dog was found in the city’s Raglan Street in February, she was less than half her healthy body weight and had clearly been subjected to prolonged mistreatment.

The three-year-old bitch was quickly admitted to the SSPCA shelter in Petterden, where she was named Willow by staff, who made an appeal for information through local media. The public came forward in droves and eventually it became clear to investigators that Burns, the man who initially alerted the SSPCA, was in fact the dog’s owner.

He was charged with maltreating the animal and sentenced by Sheriff Maxwell Hendry at Dundee Sheriff Court last week.

Sharon Comrie, manager of the Dundee Animal Welfare Centre, said last night the sentence was too lenient. She added, “I’m glad that at least it wasn’t community service but still disappointed it wasn’t a higher sentence—£200 in this day and age is hardly much of a deterrent.

“I would really have hoped he would have received a custodial sentence because the dog was in a really bad condition. She was at death’s door. I have been doing this job for 34 years and it is definitely in the top ten worst animal cruelty cases I have seen in my time here. People who had seen the story about Willow have been in contact with us throughout, checking up on how she is doing, and we have had a lot of phone calls today from people who also thought the sentence was too lenient.”

At an earlier hearing, Burns had admitted through a solicitor that between January 1 and February 12 at his home, being responsible for the dog, he caused it unnecessary suffering by failing to provide it with adequate food and failed to seek prompt veterinary care, whereby the dog became emaciated.

The case had been adjourned until last week to allow Burns to appear in person.

The dog, called Akasha by Burns, was taken to the SSPCA centre at Petterden, where it was found to have suffered prolonged neglect and been denied nourishment and weighed only 42% of its correct weight.

Defence solicitor Grant Bruce, said the dog had been properly looked after for several years and it was only latterly, when Burns was beset by personal problems, that the neglect began.

He said Burns was not a wicked man and that he had been subjected to physical assault and threats due to the court case.

He said that Burns lived with his partner and 10-month-old baby and worked. He had had the dog for three-and-a-half years and it was treated well until the last few months, when Burns’ life was turned upside down. His wife had health problems and had her appendix removed before a diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease was made. She had been in hospital and since children were not allowed in the ward he had to arrange babysitters and the strain and pressure of the circumstances led to him not looking after the dog properly.

Mr Bruce said it had come about as a result of Burns trying to look after a young child and his sick wife. The sheriff told Burns that when people care for domestic animals, they are supposed to take responsibility, but he accepted that Burns had looked after the dog for a number of years.

Willow is said to be making good progress at Petterden and now weighs 22.8 kilos, compared to 11 kilos when she was first admitted. When she is fully recovered, the charity will seek to rehome her with new, caring owners.