An RSPCA inspector told a court of the horrific scene they found when visiting the crumbling Burbage cottage owned by dog breeder Carol Pepper.
During a four-day trial at Salisbury Magistrates Court in October Pepper and Atkinson denied six identical offences brought against them by the RSPCA under the Animal Welfare Act.
The case followed the discovery of 17 dogs at their home at Dolly Mixture Cottage. Hungarian Puli sheep dogs were mostly in crates stacked up in the kitchen where they had been caged for more than a year. Other dogs were in crates in other parts of the house.
RSPCA Inspector Janet Edwards told the court that when entering the kitchen she was “hit by the smell of dog, ammonia and faeces.”
In her judgement magistrates’ chairman Mrs Sarah Ingram-Hill said: “The crates were filthy and the environment within the kitchen was unkempt to the extent that it was unclean.”
She described the crates as of an inadequate size with small water bowls. She said “discomfort and injury” would especially have been caused to those Pulis in the crates stacked on top of others. Mrs Ingram-Hill said the dogs’ flea burden was also harmful.
One of the charges related to causing unnecessary suffering to a Puli which had developed a long-standing severe skin and ear complaint. The same dog also had “multiple live fleas” in its belly. A further allegation concerned causing unnecessary suffering to a Puli which had developed a severe ear complaint that caused considerable discharge along with irritation and discomfort.
“The animal must have suffered considerably. No responsible person would have ignored this condition,” said Mrs Ingram-Hill.
The prosecution conceded the dogs were well fed, but 17 were seized by the RSPCA following a vet’s concerns over their health and welfare.
The court heard that the care of the dogs was shared between Pepper and Atkinson but in 2009 the former had become ill and found it difficult to cope. Atkinson said he had observed no problems with the dogs.
Magistrates were told the cottage, which belongs to Pepper, had partially collapsed and that a fire in an outbuilding meant they had to house an excessive number of dogs in their home, especially the kitchen.
Mrs Ingram-Hill felt the defendants had simply been overwhelmed by attempting to look after so many animals.
Ms Allison Pryor, for the defendants, told magistrates last Thursday that it was not an act of deliberate cruelty.
She said they had been looking after animals all their lives but struggled due to a unique set of circumstances involving illness, the condition of the cottage and not having the resources to address it.
A six-month community order was made against Pepper, meaning she will have to report regularly to probation.
Atkinson was ordered to carry out 100 hours of unpaid community work over 12 months.
Pepper and Atkinson were ordered to pay £800 and £1,400 costs respectively.
They were banned from keeping dogs for five years, but can appeal within two years. A five-year deprivation order was also made, meaning they cannot claim back 15 of the 17 dogs that were seized - although they can appeal after two years.
Another court case may arise in regards to the fate of the two whippets, whose ownership is uncertain.
Around half of the dogs seized are now being fostered while the others are at RSPCA kennels.
After the case the defendants’ counsel said they were now considering an appeal against both the convictions and sentence.