Tuesday 26 March 2019

Man jailed over 'deplorable' animal cruelty case where dogs found eating dead horses

WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing

James Kavanagh pictured after being sentenced to 3 years in prison for animal cruelty
Picture Dylan Vaughan
James Kavanagh pictured after being sentenced to 3 years in prison for animal cruelty Picture Dylan Vaughan
One of the 340 dogs removed from appalling conditions by ISPCA
One of the 340 dogs removed from appalling conditions by ISPCA
One of the 340 dogs removed from appalling conditions by ISPCA

Conor Kane

Gardaí and animal welfare officers who inspected a dog breeding premises found a number of dead dogs and horses, dogs feeding on the carcasses of horses and horses unable to walk because they were stuck in a mixture of mud and faeces, a court has heard.

The evidence was given in a case against a Co Carlow couple which was described as "extraordinary" by circuit court Judge James McCourt and "grim and inexcusable" by counsel for one of the defendants.

James Kavanagh (48) was given a three-year prison term after pleading guilty to 30 counts of causing or allowing animal cruelty on his property at Raheenleigh, Myshall, Co Carlow in April of 2015. The charges related to 63 different animals. He was disqualified from owning horses or dogs for life.

His wife, Jennifer Kavanagh, was given a 12-month suspended sentence after she admitted 30 counts of allowing animal cruelty on the property, relating to 15 specific animals. She was banned from owning dogs or horses for five years.

One of the 340 dogs removed from appalling conditions by ISPCA
One of the 340 dogs removed from appalling conditions by ISPCA

The prison sentence for Mr Kavanagh was greeted by loud applause in the courtroom from dozens of animal rights campaigners who listened to the evidence throughout the day. A crowd outside the courthouse cheered as the defendant was driven away afterwards in a prison van.

Activists present for this hearing and previous hearings relating to the case included Eurovision song contest winner Linda Martin, while TDs Clare Daly and Maureen O'Sullivan attended on an earlier date.

The court heard that 340 dogs and 11 horses had to be removed from the property after garda and welfare inspections and four horses and 20 dogs had to be euthanised because they were in such poor health.

ISPCA chief inspector Conor Dowling described the conditions found on the property as "quite shocking" and "deplorable" for the dogs and horses present.

"It's 20 years I've been in this job and never before or since have I come across anything like this in terms of dog welfare specifically, the scale and severity was way above anything I've ever dealt with," he told the court.

Video footage detailing some of the conditions found by the gardaí and ISPCA were shown in court, in which could be clearly seen emaciated dogs, dead animals and dogs feeding from horse carcasses.

One of the 340 dogs removed from appalling conditions by ISPCA
One of the 340 dogs removed from appalling conditions by ISPCA

Some present in the courtroom became upset while watching the video.

Garda Kathryna Denehy told the court that, during the inspection on April 14 of 2015, which lasted for almost 12 hours, they found dogs eating the spinal remains of another animal; faeces in kennels which hadn't been removed; dead dogs which hadn't been removed or disposed of; a number of dead horses; a "strong and bad smell" in one shed; "absolute squalor" in a shed containing 68 dogs in stalls; "extremely scared" dogs; dogs "eating and fighting over" a decomposed horse carcass; spaniels with bone parts from horses in their mouths; and horses which weren't moving because they were "stuck in a mixture of faeces and muck".

A report by Carlow County Council found that the conditions on the land presented "a serious biohazard" both to the animals present and also to humans because of the danger of infection and the presence nearby of a water treatment plant.

James Kavanagh accepted at the time that "I know I did wrong," the court heard.

One of the 340 dogs removed from appalling conditions by ISPCA
One of the 340 dogs removed from appalling conditions by ISPCA

He told the authorities that he had been breeding puppies some years ago but, at the time of the inspection, had been accepting animals from other dog-breeders around the country, for export to the UK.

"From February of this year, my wife had a heart problem and it all got on top of me," the defendant said in 2015.

The court heard that a TV3 crew was present at the time of the inspection and its footage formed part of a documentary some weeks later.

Since then the couple had been subjected to social media vilification, including death threats against them and verbal abuse of their five children.

Colman Cody SC, for James Kavanagh, said the reality of the case was "grim" and "inexcusable" but suggested that his client was guilty of "neglect rather than overt cruelty".

He expressed remorse on his client's behalf as did Roisin Lacey SC, for Jennifer Kavanagh, who said her client told gardaí that the dogs were her husband's responsibility.

Judge McCourt said the case was an "extraordinary" one and said "words fail me to describe what those pictures depict as to the conditions of those unfortunate animals". The scene which greeted the gardaí and inspectors that day was "like something biblical," he said.

The judge also criticised "keyboard warriors" for launching online, anonymous, campaigns and spreading information, mis-information and half-truths.

As well as giving James Kavanagh a prison sentence, he ordered him to pay €35,000 towards the ISPCA's costs for removing, treating and re-homing the animals.

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