Merseyside couple sentenced after letting dog starve to death (trigger warning, this report contains distressing images)

Couple banned from keeping any animals for 20 years

Merseyside couple Stephen O’Donnell (DOB: 21/12/1985) and Rachel Foster (DOB: 17/03/1985) of East Lancashire Road, Liverpool, were sentenced at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court last week (26 March) following an RSPCA investigation and subsequent prosecution after allowing Mastiff dog Zeus to starve to death while in their care.

Animal Rescue Officer (ARO) Hannah Yen attended the property in July last year following a report about an underweight, collapsed dog in the garden. The garden was heavily overgrown but the officer could see a dog’s body lying on the floor of a wooden kennel and was sadly unresponsive to any noises that she made.

She said: “The garden was overgrown and only a small area by the door was accessible. Mr O’Donnell said the dog was called Zeus, he was 22 months old and was a mastiff breed. I looked in the kennel, there were flies on the dog and the dog’s body condition was poor. I could see no chest movement, the dog was cold to touch and sadly the dog was dead. Mr O’Donnell said he planned to bury Zeus, but I explained that I would need to take the body to be examined by a vet.”

ARO Yen said that Mr O’Donnell had told her that “he had put the dog out in the evening and when he checked on him the next morning (25 July) he found the dog was dead.”

The rescue officer passed the case over to RSPCA Inspector Caren Goodman-James who investigated and found that Zeus had been left unattended without food or water – which had resulted in his death.

Dog had struggled for a long period of time without food – at least two months

The court heard how the vet report stated Zeus most likely died due to emaciation caused by a lack of nutrition. Zeus weighed just 18.9kg (41.7lb) and was severely emaciated with his ribs, spine and pelvic bones all prominent. There was no palpable fat tissue on him suggesting he had been given insufficient nutrition for a long period of time – two months or more.

The vet report said: “On examination, the body was extremely thin. There were no symptoms of any obvious disorder or injuries which would cause death. Regardless of the cause of severe weight loss, a reasonable owner should have sought veterinary attention for the dog in that state.

“In my opinion Zeus was suffering prior to death due to hunger, weakness and fear. The process of weight loss was chronic – muscle and fat tissue loss was present which happens when the body starts using these tissues as an emergency resource of energy in the case of prolonged hunger. I can estimate the duration for approximately two months, but likely longer.”

Pair Sentenced to 18 Months Imprisonment, Suspended for 12 months

The pair were both sentenced to 18 months imprisonment which was suspended for 12 months and ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work as well as 20 rehabilitation activity requirement days each. They were ordered to pay a £154 victim surcharge and were banned from keeping all animals for 20 years – which neither can appeal for 15 years.

They were given 28 days to rehome their bearded dragon and if not rehomed, ownership will transfer to the RSPCA to find them a new home.

This is unnecessary and help is available for struggling pet owners

Inspector Caren Goodman-James said: “This was a sad case involving the unnecessary death of a poor emaciated dog. We know that times can be tough with the cost of living crisis which may mean owners struggle to afford their pets but to allow a poor dog to starve as a result is incredibly cruel.

We’d urge anyone who is struggling to reach out for help from friends and family, find a pet foodbank near you, ask a charity for advice and support, and always contact a vet immediately if you have concerns for the health of your pet.”

If you are concerned about the welfare of an animal, you can report it to the RSPCA here: Report Cruelty | RSPCA – RSPCA –