05:48PM, Wednesday 27 June 2018
A judge has told a sanctuary founder she was ‘clearly incompetent’ in caring for animals at its run-down and vermin-infested Dorney base.
Sara Ross was banned from keeping or owning animals for five years at Reading Magistrates’ Court today (Wednesday) after pleading guilty to six charges of the mistreatment of animals at the same court on Friday.
The 54-year-old, who has worked in animal welfare for about 38 years, founded the Animal Sanctuary UK in Dorney, which was raided in a joint operation by Thames Valley Police, the RSPCA and Trading Standards in May last year.
The sanctuary had fallen into a state of disrepair with dilapidated, vermin-infested sheds housing animals, abandoned industrial machinery lying around and piles of litter and manure in animal enclosures.
The court saw a video of the site recorded by an RSPCA official, which showed a young foal with a large gash on its shoulder.
Footage inside the caravan that Ross lived in showed she shared the space with 11 dogs and six cats, and the court heard of a ‘strong ammonia smell’ inside.
Several of the dogs and cats were found to have dental disease, one of the exotic birds she kept had a large growth on its chest that dangled between its legs, and a turkey had to be put down on the site when vets were unable to contain a disease in its foot.
Prosecutor Hazel Stevens said: “Ross had a leading role in this, she founded a charity which sets out to find sanctuary and shelter for animals.
"The sanctuary has a duty of care because people expect animals to receive a greater level of care that they would not receive elsewhere."
Speaking in Ross’ defence, Nigel Weller told the court that a serious injury in an accident with one of her own horses in January 2017 saw her receive four operations on her leg and foot and prevented her from getting around the whole site and looking after the animals properly.
He added that the circumstances added up to a ‘calamitous clash of things happening’, and also blamed a group of ‘hate campaigners’ who he claimed were working to bring Ross down.
He told the court that Ross’s work at the animal sanctuary had generally been a success, stating that she had found new homes for 368 animals in 2017.
In her closing remarks, district judge Sophie Toms said: “You were well-intentioned but you were clearly incompetent in caring for those animals. Serious harm was caused.
“Your failure to call on expert vets for help is quite frankly astonishing.”
Ross was sentenced for the mistreatment of six horses, seven dogs, four cats, seven guinea pigs, five rabbits and 10 birds.
She will also have to complete 135 hours of unpaid work, attend 10 probation appointments over a one-year period, forfeit ownership of the remaining animals in her care and pay a £750 fine.
On Friday, co-defendant Hayley Poturici, 25, of Frensham Walk, Farnham Common, who worked at the sanctuary, was told she will face no further action after she accepted an official RSPCA caution.
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