A PRIMARY school headteacher from Wirral has been banned from owning animals for life after admitting neglecting an elderly dog to the point where vets believed it was already dead.

West Highland Terrier “Snowy” had to be put down after a severe ear infection and ulcerated tumour to its rear went untreated for “at least several weeks, if not months”.

Animal welfare officers found the dog – believed to be aged between 17 and 20 – in an “appalling” state after “suffering on numerous levels”.

Susan Horncastle, from Wallasey, pleaded guilty to causing unnecessary suffering to Snowy when she appeared at Wirral Magistrates’ Court in October.

The 60-year-old – who has been sacked from her job as headteacher at The Our Lady of Good Help Primary School in Wavertree because of the offence – was handed a three months jail sentence today, Monday, suspended for two years.

District Judge Michael Abelson was told how Horncastle had been unable to look after Snowy properly due to her own ill health. But he said even with her severe arthritis, it was no excuse for allowing the dog to suffer as it did.

He said: “You'rer are a lady of exemplary character, but in no way could it possibly excuse your behaviour when it came to this unfortunate animal.

“The fact of the matter is you were given charge of this dog for whatever period of time and it’s quite clear to anyone looking at these photographs that you would have been aware of the deterioration in this dog’s health. You should have attended to this at a much earlier stage.

“The outcome because of the age of the dog may not have been greatly differently but that’s not the point. The dog suffered as a result and by your guilty plea, you have accepted that the dog suffered.”

RSPCA Inspector Anthony Joynes described it as a “catalogue of neglect”.

Photographs shown to the court show the extent of Snowy’s tumour, which Mr Murphy said would have made it painful, if not impossible, for the dog to go to the toilet or sit down.

The court heard how the RSPCA had been called to Horncastle’s home in July after concerns were raised about the welfare of her dog. There was no answer or sign of a dog, but an “overpowering stench of rotting flesh” could be smelled through the letter box.

Snowy was later taken to a Wirral veterinary surgery by Horncastle’s son, where staff initially thought he was dead and contacted the RSPCA.

Chris Murphy, prosecuting on behalf of the animal charity, said Snowy had to be put down on humane grounds.

“The vet said the dog was in a shocking condition after several weeks, if not months, of suffering on numerous levels,” said Mr Murphy, adding that Snowy’s hips, ribs and spine could be clearly seen through his fur, which was greasy, matted and covered in faeces.

Horncastle had initially denied owning any animals but later said she looked after Snowy – who belonged to her sister – on an “on/off basis” for four years while her sister lived abroad.

Matthew Harvey, defending, told the court Horncastle suffers from two forms of arthritis and has limited mobility.

He said she was unable to bend down to examine Snowy and was only made aware of the severity of his condition when his matted fur was cut away to reveal the tumour. She then asked her son to take Snowy to the vets.

Mr Harvey described the court process as “terrifying” for Horncastle and said she has received threatening letters through the post.

Mr Abelson said: “It’s incumbent on the courts to ensure animals are well cared for and treated properly and as always I am very grateful for the RSPCA for their professional approach they have taken in this case as they always do in cases involving animals on the Wirral.”

Following the hearing, RSPCA Inspector Anthony Joynes said: “This was a serious case of extreme prolonged neglect. Snowy was, in my opinion, a catalogue of neglect. It would have been all too obvious to Horncastle that the dog was suffering and there was no reasonable excuse for him not to be presented to a vet earlier.

“The aggravating factor in this case in my opinion was that the vets thought Snowy had already died when presented.”

Horncastle was ordered to pay costs totalling £1,227.