The Day the Man from the RSPCA Came
by Julie Stoodley
June 1st 2004
On June 1st an inspector from the RSPCA arrived at the rescue with six very sad looking ferrets. All were very skinny with long curling claws and dramatic hair loss. He told me they had been signed over to the RSPCA and that he left another 10 ferrets with the owner. I asked if they were in the same condition and he said that 'it was possible'. I was not happy about leaving the others there and asked if he would attend the vets with me to see what a professional thought. We went straight away to see my vet, Matthew Fry, and after checking them over and weighing them, he agreed these ferrets were neglected. They were all about half their body weight and three of the jills were pregnant. The inspector rang headquarters and it was decided that the remaining 10 should be looked at and the owner interviewed.
June 2nd 2004
I was asked to go along with the inspector and two police officers to the premises to look at the remaining ferrets. In my opinion the ferrets and their living conditions were exceptionally poor. We seized all 10 ferrets and the owner was interviewed. During the course of the interview the owner signed over 8 of the 10 over but refused to sign over the 2 little jills. He was told that a prosecution would possibly occur and that all 16 ferrets would be in the care of the RSPCA until a conclusion was reached. He still insisted that he still wanted the 2 jills back at the end of it all.
June 3rd 2004
After 2 very traumatic days and living between the vets and the rescue it was down to work on these helpless but beautiful ferrets. All ferrets had a bath and manicure and all were treated for mites. One little chap was sedated to enable a biopsy to be carried out to see why some of the ferrets had such bad hair loss.
They were all eating as if it was their last meal and they were all frightened but friendly. All the jills had jill jabs as they were heavily in season except for the 3 of them that were found to be pregnant. After 14 days of feeding, tlc, home visits from the vet and biopsies most had doubled their weight and were fit enough to go in for ops. The hair loss was found to be caused simply by malnutrition. All the boys were castrated and micro-chipped and over the following weeks the girls were spayed and micro-chipped as well. The 2 girls that he wouldn't sign over were technically his property so I wasn't allowed to spay them.
By the beginning of August a case file was put together. This included statements from me, Matthew, the police and the RSPCA Inspector along with photographic evidence of the ferrets and their accommodation. This was presented to the Legal Department of the RSPCA and now we had to wait on their decision as to whether it would go to court or not. I got the call in September which was jubilation in itself… the RSPCA had decided to take the case to court!
I arrived at Grimsby Magistrates Court with the RSPCA Inspector, and the RSPCA solicitor. I think we were all pretty nervous that we wouldn't get the result we wanted but it all started well when the ferret owner's solicitor approached us to say that his client now wanted to sign the remaining two ferrets over to the RSPCA - at least I knew I would never have to give the two girls back to him which was very likely if we didn't win the case.
He put up no real defence and all too soon it was time for the judgement. He was found guilty on 16 counts of neglect of an animal. He was banned from keeping any caged animal for three years, given a conditional discharge and was also heavily fined. To say we were pleased is an understatement. To people reading this his sentence may not seem very harsh given the condition of the ferrets but anyone who has had any dealings with our justice system will know that this sentence is probably much more than we could ever have hoped for.
10 of the 16 ferrets have gone to loving homes around the country. 6 are still with us at the rescue (5 jills and 1 hob). All have turned into beautiful ferrets with shiny coats and bright eyes. None of the ferrets confiscated have ever tried to bite or show any sign of aggression which is surprising given their existence up to the day the man from the RSPCA came.
It's a sad fact of life that with every high there has to be a low. In this case the low was that all three jills lost their babies as they couldn't sustain a pregnancy due to the fact they were so malnourished - some people would say he's responsible for the death of the unborn kits as well.
No one had ever been prosecuted in the UK for cruelty or neglect of ferrets so you can see was a landmark case. The precedent has now been set and the Chief Inspector of the RSPCA has said that it is now easier to bring prosecution and gain serious convictions based on this case alone. On this note I would just like to thank the RSPCA. I fully appreciate that as an organisation they receive their fair share of criticism, some of which, I'm sure is completely justified. In this case however they were brilliant and certain individuals were prepared to put their necks on the line for ferret welfare.
I would also like to say a big personal thanks to Matthew, my vet, for all the help and support because this case would not have happened without his expert opinion.