The animal welfare five freedoms influence everything we do at Animal Eye but I first come across them in rather unusual circumstances.
Back in 1994 my first posting as an RSPCA Inspector was to North Norfolk, based in sunny Fakenham and covering a huge area stretching from Cromer to the Cambridgeshire border. I was part of a team of four officers, Tony Woodley, Nicki Strickland and Pat Wilson and led by the inimitable Chief Inspector Mike Hogg.
On arriving in my area I was sent a very long print out of over one hundred non-urgent jobs on a scroll of dot matrix paper. That was daunting enough, little did I know that one of those jobs was the Wagoners!
So one spring morning, I drove off in my Astra van to village just north east of Fakenham where I found, what would have been, a peaceful pretty semi-detached cottage. It would have been a pretty, ‘two up, two down,’ if it wasn’t surrounded by Somme-esque mud with two derelict cars in the front garden. It was only when I opened the gate, walked through, closed it and strolled up the ‘garden’ path that I realised that both the cars were occupied by two very loud and seemingly aggressive full grown German Shepherds. After forcing my heart back down to where it belonged, I knocked on the door.
After ten minutes of shouting, barking and more shouting, the door opened a few inches before two Springer Spaniels forced their way out. The Spaniels were quickly followed by a pack of six German Shepherds. Luckily I managed to flatten myself against the garden fence when I was then rewarded with the vision that was Linda Wagoner.
Linda Wagoner was about 5’6,’’ slim with a white painted alabaster face, a bright red lipstick smile and bleach white hair down to her backside. The dogs, that were clearly physically healthy, were careering around the mud, barking and taking it in turns to try to intimidate me. As there was no sign of suffering, in accordance with the then relevant legislation and Linda made it very clear that I wasn’t going to get inside the property, I made my excuses and left. At this time in history, RSPCA Inspectors had no legal powers whatsoever. As I got back in my van I was approached by a visibly troubled man, who turned out to be Linda’s neighbour. He whispered, ‘There’s more inside you know!’
‘Don’t know but at least the same again,’ he said. ‘It’s the smell I can’t stand.’
He went on to explain that the floor boards of the building ran from the Wagoner’s cottage into his property. This apparently allowed the dog urine from Linda’s cottage to soak through to the neighbouring one. ‘Troubled’ didn’t even begin to describe the man’s state of mind.
This vignette repeated again and again, someone called the RSPCA, I visit… I walk away.
It was clear I needed to get in the property, so out came the books, where I came across the Environmental Protection Act. I could get a warrant!
Well an Environmental Health Officer could, which was the next best thing. But what to do once I was in there? Judging by the animals Linda allowed me to see, they were all physically fine.
Enter the legend that was Legal Chief Superintendent Tony Crittenden; my boss for all things legal. He explained to me about the animal welfare five freedoms and how he thought they could be used as the basis of a prosecution. It is hard to explain how radical this thinking was over 25 years ago.
Even more radical was that I actually found a vet willing to support his thinking. So a plan was hatched and one sunny spring morning the entire team of Norfolk Inspectors, the vet and two Police Officers gathered around the corner from the Wagoner’s residence where we waited for the EHO’s and the warrant.
Can you imagine how angry I was when once they turned up and we had knocked on the door, I discovered that the EHO had actually warned Wagoner, the night before, that we were coming in order to give them the chance to clean up. For some reason the EHO left quite quickly after serving the warrant!
So now we come to the headline of this blog which was actually the headline of the local paper following this case. Three times I tried to enter the house and three times I started to heave and retch. I got in on the fourth attempt with the help of some Olbas Oil and a hanky and this was after they had cleaned up!
Once inside we found dogs, lots of them and fully grown German Shepherds to boot. One lived in the upstairs bathroom. I knew this, as it had it had eaten its way through the floor and was sticking its head through the hole trying to bite people’s heads!
We also found Miss Wagoner, Linda’s daughter, who was pretending to be unconscious on the sofa. It turned out she was doing this to avoid not only interacting with us but with her mother, who was angry she hadn’t cleaned upstairs. Miss Wagoner, who was the spitting image of her mother; make up, hair and all, after receiving some attitude adjustment from Norfolk Police were arrested and removed from the house.
The downstairs was bare floor boards with raw, whole chicken carcases and buckets of filthy water littered around the place. The Kitchen was awash with water from a bare, constantly running copper pipe. Then I went upstairs.
The upstairs was a mine field of piles of dog mess with a dog in every room. Well every room bar one. The master bedroom, together with made up king size bed, was clean and relatively well furnished.
We removed 21 German Shepherds from the two bedroom cottage, including the gardens sheds, derelict cars and even a cupboard. All of which were mentally disturbed and distressed from long periods of neglect and confinement. However they were all physically sound.
There was one final twist to the day though. Around lunchtime the Police had a shift change and an officer who turned out to be the local bobby approached the team who were taking a break and getting some welcome fresh air at the front of the property. I described the scene inside to him, including the relatively clean bedroom. ‘You know why, don’t you?’ said the officer.
‘They’re um… ladies of the night!’
The Wagoners were convicted of numerous counts of causing unnecessary suffering at Fakenham Magistrates Court and were banned from keeping animals. This was the first case, to my knowledge, of using the five freedoms during a cruelty prosecution in the UK. The five freedoms were then used over ten years later as the basis for the Welfare of Animals Act 2006.
All the animals seized were successfully rehomed.