ANIMAL welfare workers have hit out after a young woman who left her dogs to starve until their bones could be seen under their skin was allowed to continue keeping animals.
Heather McMeechan, 23, claimed she was unable to look after her pets because she was in a “spiral of depression”, and for nearly two months she failed to feed Halle, a five-year-old black Labrador bitch, and Reilly, a one-year-old Red Setter.
A vet who inspected the dogs described it as one of the worst cases of starvation he had ever seen. But at Livingston Sheriff Court yesterday she was admonished by a sheriff and only told to think carefully about keeping animals in the future.
The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals branded the decision shocking.
Scottish SPCA Chief Superintendent Mike Flynn said: “Following our investigation McMeechan has been convicted of causing her two dogs unnecessary suffering and as a result now has a criminal record.
“However, we are shocked that no ban on keeping animals has been imposed by the court.
“The vet who examined both dogs said it was one of the worst cases of starvation he had ever seen and we believe a life ban would have been entirely appropriate in this instance. In cases like this we always seek a ban, which is an option open to the courts under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act of 2006.”
He added: “Not only is it important in cases such as this, where we believe the offender has demonstrated they are unfit to care for animals, it also sends out an important message that owning an animal is a privilege and not a right.
“Thankfully, both dogs were taken into our care and after prolonged rehabilitation have found a loving home together.”
McMeechan, of Linlithgow, appeared for sentence after earlier pleading guilty to causing the dogs unnecessary suffering.She admitted failing to provide them with adequate wholesome nutrition and necessary veterinary attention between April 1 and May 27, 2010.
The court was told that when inspectors from the Scottish SPCA visited her home they found both dogs in “an emaciated and grossly under- nourished state”.
Iain Smith, defending, said McMeechan had been suffering from mental health difficulties at the time and had been diagnosed with clinical depression.
He said it would be a “Draconian measure” to ban her from owning animals.
He said: “In a good mental health state she would be a fit person to look after animals, although she has no plans to do so at present. Her family are now aware of her problems and are providing her with support to fall back on.”
Sheriff Donald Muirhead admonished McMeechan but advised her to think twice about keeping pets in the future.
He said: “If you feel yourself getting down or in a low mood and you have animals, give them away because you obviously can’t look after them in that state.”