Trainers 'left dogs to die' in cars

A PAIR of experienced greyhound trainers left their dogs to die from heat exhaustion in vehicles parked outside one of Suffolk's top racing tracks, a court heard.

A PAIR of experienced greyhound trainers left their dogs to die from heat exhaustion in vehicles parked outside one of Suffolk's top racing tracks, a court heard.

James McArdle and Sally Ann Clark's puppies died within just minutes of each other during the evening of a "very hot and humid" day last July at the Mildenhall Stadium.

Appearing before Mildenhall Magistrates' Court yesterday, both denied a single charge of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal in a case brought by the RSPCA.

Paul Rogers, prosecuting, told the bench that both dogs had been left in their owners' vehicles while official time trials took place.

The animals, which were young and unregistered for racing, were due to take part in a "puppy schooling trial" following the main programme, and as such were not eligible to be placed in the stadium's purpose-built kennels.

"These two particular animals both died as a result of heat exhaustion on that day," said Mr Rogers, opening the prosecution case.

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"It is our case that these defendants were both experienced greyhound trainers and should have taken further steps to ensure the safety of these animals, as the effects and risks of heat exhaustion are well-known.

"We say a reasonably competent and caring trainer would not have left the dogs unsupervised on this hot night. They should not have taken the dogs with them at all."

Mr Rogers said 71-year-old McArdle, of Newmarket's Lester Piggot Way, had arrived at the stadium at around 6.15pm with four dogs. He left the three unregistered animals, which were to take part in the puppy trials, in his van while booking the fourth in to race.

After checking the dogs at intervals throughout the evening, McArdle returned to his van at around 7.30pm to find one animal dead and another "slightly stressed".

He approached Paul Jarman, who had worked as the stadium's on-site vet for eight years, and within minutes, Clark, 43, of Brightlingsea Road in Thorrington, had also begun asking for help.

She too had left a dog in her car while booking another animal in to race, and checked its condition several times before returning at around 7.45pm to find it lying in the passenger seat footwell.

"It was a very hot and humid day, and there was very little breeze, if any whatsoever," said Mr Jarman, who concluded both animals had died as a result of heat exhaustion.

"As I approached Miss Clark's dog, there was a gasp and then it lay still. I checked for a heartbeat and there was nothing at all.

"In my opinion, animals should definitely not be left in a car in these circumstances. In my experience, the risks of heat exhaustion are known to greyhound trainers. Provision should have been made for somebody to be with the dogs outside the vehicles and the other alternative was not to take them at all."

RSPCA inspector Dave Podmore became involved two days after the incidents on July 9. During interviews, McArdle told him he would always ask about any spare kennel availability as "anything is better than leaving the dogs in the van."

He also said: "I deeply regret what has happened, and would not purposefully be cruel as I love animals. I accept I am responsible."

Taking the witness stand, McArdle - who said he had been involved with racing dogs for his entire life - added: "It is not that I really thought they were in any danger, as this was something the trainers did every week. I did not think the weather was any hotter than any other night.

"If I had thought this would have happened, I would never have gone with the dogs. It did not dawn on me that this was going to happen because I have been doing this for years and years.

"Unfortunately I have lost my licence over this, and everyone looks down on us now."

Clark, who has also been involved with dogs since childhood, said she had lost her licence because of the incident, which had left her shocked and upset.

"I always come back several times to check on my dogs, even in the winter, because they are very valuable and can cost up to £10,000," said Clark, who told the court she had known of two other trainers who had problems with their animals on the same evening.

"I went back to check the dog again and couldn't find it initially. I started to panic and opened the car door and it was lying on the floor on the passenger side.

"I was in such a state as training was my life. I bred this dog from a puppy and I loved it. My dogs are like my children.

"I did not believe it was hot enough to do any damage to the dog. It was the evening, it was getting later and there was a wind blowing. It had been a nice sunny day, but it was getting later and it was getting colder."

Mr Rogers said the nearest weather station to Mildenhall, at Wattisham, had registered temperatures of between 19 and 21 degrees Celsius that evening, but both defendants said they had kept their vehicle windows open while their dogs were inside.

The trial continues today .