RSPCA labelled `fat police' in overweight dog trial

By Brian Farmer, PA The RSPCA was criticised tonight for successfully prosecuting two brothers who allowed their Labrador to become fat. Magistrates convicted sadler Derek Benton, 62 and his brother David, 53, of Fordham, Cambridgeshire, of causing unnec

By Brian Farmer, PA

The RSPCA was criticised tonight for successfully prosecuting two brothers who

allowed their Labrador to become fat.

Magistrates convicted sadler Derek Benton, 62 and his brother David, 53, of Fordham, Cambridgeshire, of causing


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unnecessary suffering after a £12,000 two-day trial.

But they decided that the dog, Rusty - who was 11-and-a-half stone at his

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heaviest - could be returned to the Bentons providing it was properly cared for.

They imposed a conditional discharge on each of the men.

David Benton, a crane driver, said afterwards that the RSPCA had behaved like ``the fat police'' and that he had been ``dumbfounded'' by the

prosecution.

Earlier the brothers' lawyer, Ann-Marie Gregory, had told the court in Ely,

Cambridgeshire, that the case had left the owners of overweight animals living

in fear of prosecution.

But RSPCA inspectors denied behaving unreasonably and said they had acted to

prevent Rusty suffering.

The said the dog had lost nearly four stones since being taken away from the Bentons ten months ago.

Chief Inspector Mark Thompson, who led the investigation, said he was

disappointed that the court had ruled that the dog could return home.

And he said he feared for the animal's future.

Miss Gregory said she expected the brothers to get their dog back early next

week.

Both men denied causing unnecessary suffering, saying the animal was

overweight because it had arthritis and could not exercise.

The RSPCA told magistrates that the Bentons had allowed Rusty's weight to rise

from eight to more than eleven-and-a-half stones in two years.

Officials said the brothers, who live together in Fordham, Cambridgeshire, had

ignored veterinary advice and failed to give Rusty an appropriate diet.

They said Rusty - who is chocolate coloured and aged 11 - was ``hugely and

grossly'' overweight and a vet had described it as looking like a ``walrus''.

The RSPCA said the dog could barely walk a few steps and collapsed if kept

standing.

The Bentons denied overfeeding the dog saying they gave it a small bowl of

dried food twice a day and a bone for a treat on Saturdays.

They said the dog was overweight because it suffered from severe arthritis and

had a long-standing hip complaint.

Magistrates' chairman Bryant Watson, said the bench had concluded that the

Bentons had not followed advice and failed to feed Rusty appropriately and were

therefore guilty of causing unnecessary suffering.

He said the conditional discharge orders would stay in place for three years

and if the Bentons failed to properly care for the dog they could be brought

back to court.

Magistrates also ordered the brothers to pay court costs of £250.

Lawyers said the costs of the case were around £12,000 and the RSPCA had spent

more than £3,000 since, seizing the dog in March last year.

``We are delighted that we will be getting Rusty back - we love him to bits,''

said David Benton, outside court.

``But this has put me off ever having another dog and I think other people

will be worried about being prosecuted if their pet is overweight.

``We were dumbfounded when we were prosecuted. We couldn't believe it. And I

am very angry that we have been found guilty. We have never been cruel to an

animal in our life.

``What's going to happen next. Will you be in court if your child is too fat.

``The dog is 11-years-old and it has arthritis. What do they expect.

``You should see it when it sits in front of the fire looking at us, it looks

very happy then.

``All our neighbours and friends say the same thing - it's the RSPCA who

should be strung up, not us.

``It does feel like we've been chased by the fat police. I think a lot of

other people will be worried.

``We will make absolutely sure we look after Rusty properly and he will be

seeing a vet as soon as we get him back.''

Earlier Miss Gregory had told magistrates: ``This is a test case. It has never

been done before.''

She added: ``I have had telephone calls to my chambers - to my offices. There

are people up and down the country worried to death because their cat is a

couple of pounds overweight or their rabbit is a couple of pounds overweight.

``People are literally worrying themselves sick because their animal is not

the correct weight.

``I have to say, one wonders where this case will stop. Are we going to go

down the route of fat children. Are we going to have parents prosecuted in court

because their child is overweight. It could happen.''

But Chief Inspector Thompson refuted the Bentons' criticism and their lawyer's

suggestion.

``This was not about a fat dog,'' he said.

``This was about the owners of a dog who caused the animal unnecessary

suffering because they allowed it to become grossly overweight and repeatedly

failed to follow advice.

``I don't want to go along this route of suggesting that people will be

prosecuted if their dog is a little bit overweight. This isn't the case at all.

``Prosecution wasn't the first resort. The Bentons were given repeated advice

which they failed to follow.

``And I don't think this is money wasted. The dog has lost nearly four stones

since we took it into our care. It can now walk about comfortably. The money has

been spent to stop an animal suffering.''

He added: ``I am disappointed that the court is allowing the dog to return to

the Bentons. They didn't look after it properly before and how can we be sure

that they'll look after it in the future.

``All I can say is that we will monitor the dog's condition closely - with the

agreement of the Bentons - and if necessary another prosecution will be

brought.''

Prosecutor Stephen Climie told the court that he did not regard the

prosecution as a test case.

``This is not a test case,'' he said. ``This is a case peculiar to its

facts.''

And he said there was no comparison in the prosecution of the Bentons to any

possible prosecution of parents whose children were overweight.

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