A mother and son from Goole in East Yorkshire have been banned from keeping equines and handed suspended prison sentences after being found guilty of keeping two donkeys and a mule in an unsuitable environment without adequate water or dental and farrier care.

Susan Shears, 73, was handed a lifetime disqualification from keeping equines, which cannot be appealed for 10 years, plus 20 weeks’ imprisonment, suspended for two years, and ordered to pay £3,000 costs.  

Her son John Shears, 37, was disqualified from keeping equines for 10 years, which cannot be appealed for five years and was sentenced to 12 weeks’ imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, and ordered to pay £700 costs

Donkeys Dora and Daisy, plus Ebony the mule, were kept in a field full of the toxic plant ragwort and littered with loose barbed wire and fallen wire netting.

Daisy (left) and Dora are recovering well. Credit: RSPCA

The animals had access to an old, disused work container (pictured, top) which was too small to provide adequate shelter and had sharp edges and canvas straps still attached inside.

The donkeys and mule did not have access to any hard standing and their water supply was dirty with an accumulation of algae.

All three animals had overgrown teeth and hooves and were in need of dental and farrier treatment.

“Police forced entry to the field using bolt cutters and gave permission for myself, staff from The Donkey Sanctuary and an independent vet to enter the field and examine the animals and their environment,” said RSPCA Inspector Thomas Hutton, who led the investigation.

“An independent vet examined each animal and found Dora was suffering from laminitis and Ebony was suffering from ulceration to the soft tissues of her mouth from inadequate dental care that would have caused her discomfort when eating.

“She advised the animals should be removed from the site as they were either suffering or likely to suffer if they remained.  Police took the animals into possession, passing them into the RSPCA’s care.”

The animals were transported to a near-by holding base funded by The Donkey Sanctuary, where they received urgent dental and farrier treatment.

Ebony was put to sleep on veterinary advice due to on-going suffering with dental issues, while Dora and Daisy responded well to treatment.

Due to their age and on-going care requirements, a statement from the RSPCA said the duo may need to remain in The Donkey Sanctuary’s care for the rest of their lives.

‘Failed in their duty’

Unfortunately, Ebony the mule’s condition was so poor that a vet advised she was put to sleep. Credit: RSPCA

Susan and John were both found guilty after a trial hearing at Beverley Magistrates’ Court on 3 August of seven offences relating to the donkeys and mule and sentencing took place at Hull Magistrates’ Court on Monday (October 11).

The court heard how inspectors from the RSPCA and welfare advisers from The Donkey Sanctuary had previously offered help to the Shears and advised of the actions needed to safeguard the welfare of the animals but this was ignored and the situation remained unchanged.

Following the sentencing hearing, Thomas Hutton said: “Pet owners have a legal responsibility to ensure their animals do not suffer and that their needs are met. Despite advice from The Donkey Sanctuary, sadly the Shears failed in their duty towards their animals”.

Hannah Bryer, Head of Welfare at The Donkey Sanctuary, added: “Owning donkeys and mules is a hugely rewarding experience and a wonderful privilege, however they require caring and compassionate management to ensure they lead healthy and enriched lives.

“We had previously attended this location alongside the RSPCA and engaged with the owners regarding Ebony and another donkey. We discussed the changes that needed to be made to ensure the environment was safe and suitable for the animals.

“On a repeat visit, we found Ebony with Daisy and Dora living at the same location that was detrimental to their welfare, it was clear our advice had not been followed. We worked with the RSPCA to safeguard their welfare.”

At the sentencing hearing, the court issued a deprivation order for the ownership of the donkeys to be handed over to the RSPCA. The defendants have 21 days to appeal this.

After the 21 days and subject to no appeals, the care of the animals will be handed over to The Donkey Sanctuary.

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