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Elderly cat died after being left alone in flat for prolonged periods of time

A woman from Chester has been banned from keeping animals for two years after repeatedly leaving her elderly cat unsupervised and failing to get veterinary help for the animal’s chronic kidney disease.

Natalie Hewson was prosecuted by the RSPCA after 13-year-old Zippy died at an empty flat in Norfolk Road in Chester.

She pleaded guilty to causing unnecessary suffering to Zippy and failing to meet her needs during August and September last year at a hearing at Chester Magistrates Court last Wednesday (27 March).  

The court heard that the animal welfare charity began investigating on 13 September last year after being contacted about a cat who had reportedly been left unattended in a flat for a prolonged period and had died as a result. Zippy had been removed from the property by someone who knew Hewson and buried a week earlier at another address.  

In written evidence to the court, RSPCA Inspector Anthony Joynes who collected the cat’s body, said: “I was directed to the rear of the garden and observed a tabby and white female deceased cat which had been removed from a shallow grave prior to my arrival. The carcass of the cat was in poor bodily condition with ribs, spine and pelvic bones palpable through the skin.”

Zippy was removed as evidence and taken for a post mortem examination. The report showed the elderly cat had chronic kidney disease that had progressed to renal failure and led to her death on or around 4 September, although Hewson later told Inspector Joynes her cat appeared ‘fine,’ three to four days prior to this.

The vet who carried out the post mortem said adequate supervision of Zippy should have alerted her owner to observe excessive thirst and the need to seek prompt veterinary advice regarding cause and treatment.

The vet added:

“A cat affected by chronic renal disease will display outward signs of clinical abnormality including weight loss - not unusual for a senior cat - but also excessive thirst and urination,” said the vet. “Each of these observations relies upon the regular (at least daily) and frequent supervision of the cat in order to be able to identify such abnormalities.

“The evidence indicates that Zippy had been left unsupervised for repeated periods of four days, and when she was supervised this was for very short periods of time, just enough for the responsible person to provide further food and water without a significant period of observation of the cat’s behaviour.

“In my opinion the needs of Zippy had not been met due to a lack of adequate supervision with a failure to adequately monitor her and ensure she was not showing signs of illness or disease. The failure to meet the needs her needs also led to her having unrecognised chronic renal disease which had progressed to renal failure.”

The court heard that throughout October and November 2023 Inspector Joynes made repeated attempts to contact Hewson to interview her about Zippy but got no response. On 15 November the inspector spoke to a man at a property at Llay in Wrexham where Hewson was said to be staying and left a message asking her to get in touch urgently.

Numerous further attempts to make contact were made until an interview was finally conducted on 6 December. In it, Hewson told the officer she had left the property in Chester because of asbestos and that the council had taken longer than anticipated to fix it. She accepted she had been to the flat about ten times in 30 days, staying for about ten minutes at a time, but admitted she should have done more. 

She said she was ‘devastated’ when Zippy died and didn’t know she was unwell.

In addition to the two-year disqualification order, Hewson was also given a 12-month community order, 140 hours of unpaid work and told to pay £240 costs and a victim surcharge of £114.

Speaking after the case Inspector Joynes said: “Life often throws changes in circumstance at us but it’s important to ensure the needs of animals you are responsible for are always met. Zippy was let down by her owner at a time when she needed her most and with tragic consequences.”

Natalie Hewson pleaded guilty to the following two charges:

  1. That between 5th August 2023 and 4th September 2023 at Norfolk Road, Chester, you did cause unnecessary suffering to a certain animal namely a tabby and white female cat known as Zippy, by failing to identify and address the cat’s ill health which resulted in a lack of veterinary treatment and subsequently death and you knew or ought reasonably to have known that your failure to act would have the effect of causing the animal to suffer or be likely to do so, contrary to Section 4(1) of the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

  2. That between 5th August 2023 and 4th September 2023 at Norfolk Road, Chester, you did not take such steps as were reasonable in all the circumstances to ensure that the needs of an animal namely a tabby and white female cat known as Zippy, for which you were responsible, were met to the extent required by good practice by one or a combination of the following:

  • By leaving the animal unattended for significant periods of time.

  • By failing to make adequate or any arrangements for the cat to be regularly attended to in your absence.

  • By failing to provide suitable supervision in respect of the cat’s health and welfare.

  • By failing to provide veterinary treatment as required.

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