Woman jailed after 191 dogs found crammed together

Dogs kept in pitiful conditions by Diana Curtis
-Credit: (Image: RSPCA)


A woman has been jailed and banned from keeping animals indefinitely after 191 dogs were found living in squalid and overcrowded conditions in a remote field in Devon. Diana Curtis crammed the animals, including puppies, into pens and crates, causing them unnecessary suffering, a court heard.

Curtis, 66, moved the animals between premises in North Devon in an attempt to avoid detection. When RSPCA inspectors finally caught up with her they found a scene of chaos, with a huge number of dogs living in dirt under tarpaulin sheets behind fencing and in the back of a lorry.

Many of the mud-covered animals were tightly packed in pens, crates and partly-built stables, competing for meagre supplies of food and water. Two of the dogs had to be put to sleep by vets.

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Curtis, described as "isolated and lonely", said she loved the animals but became "overwhelmed" by the sheer number. A judge said she had put her own selfish feelings above the welfare of her animals and jailed her for 25 months.

Dogs kept in pitiful conditions by Diana Curtis
Dogs kept in pitiful conditions by Diana Curtis -Credit:RSPCA

Prosecutor Hazel Stevens said Curtis was well known to the RSPCA and the local council due to previous complaints about noisy dogs and neglect of horses. In 2022 a number of animals were seized from her property in Petrockstowe in Torridge.

She then "vanished" from the property taking her remaining animals with her, said the prosecutor. In March 2023, a landowner reported animals at Chittlehamholt. There was no running water or electricity at the remote location.

"A number of dogs were crammed into a lorry parked on the site," said Miss Stevens. "Dogs were literally on top of each other in that vehicle.

Dogs kept in pitiful conditions by Diana Curtis
Dogs kept in pitiful conditions by Diana Curtis -Credit:RSPCA

"Other dogs were in some form of pen. The prosecution say the dogs were there to avoid detection. There were dogs and puppies in crates." Curtis had planned to built some stables as accommodation but the work was not finished.

"Rather disturbingly when some water was put in for the dogs they literally stood on top of each other," said Miss Stevens.

Other dogs were left with a bucket of water. Vets assessed every animal. Six nursing bitches and 19 puppies were found in crates near one of the pens with no consistent access to water. A total of 92 dogs were found in the back of the lorry.

Dogs kept in pitiful conditions by Diana Curtis
Dogs kept in pitiful conditions by Diana Curtis -Credit:RSPCA

A dog with a deformed jaw had to be put to sleep. A tan collie with an ulcer was also euthanised. There were so many animals that they fought each other for food. A number of animals had injuries, including scars and ears missing caused by fighting. Some were emaciated, others had infected wounds.

Miss Stevens said Curtis' actions amounted to repeated acts of neglect, ignoring previous warnings and advice. She has similar previous convictions and a disqualification for keeping animals.

Nigel Wraith, defending, said Curtis had been trying to move the animals when the lorry got stuck in the mud. Her intention was to provide them with food and shelter but matters had got out of hand. There was no evidence of her deliberately harming the animals and she was very sorry for the situation.

Dogs kept in pitiful conditions by Diana Curtis
Dogs kept in pitiful conditions by Diana Curtis -Credit:RSPCA

She lived a lonely life, had health problems and loved her dogs. She had paid for work to be done at Chittlehamholt but it had not been finished in time for the move. Curtis admitted six charges of causing unnecessary suffering.

Judge James Adkin said: "The pictures show many of them in a truly pitiful condition. You showed a deliberate disregard for the welfare of the animals and a failure to seek treatment. A very high level of suffering was caused to the animals.

Dogs kept in pitiful conditions by Diana Curtis
Dogs kept in pitiful conditions by Diana Curtis -Credit:RSPCA

"It seems to me you did love them for the comfort they provided for you. But you were selfish and had too many. You put yourself and your own feelings before the animals causing them considerable suffering."

He said Curtis would be banned for keeping any more animals and cannot apply for the restriction to be lifted for at least 10 years.