HIGH PRICE: Helen O'Keefe must pay the RSPCA $47,000 in care and vet costs.
HIGH PRICE: Helen O'Keefe must pay the RSPCA $47,000 in care and vet costs.

Decaying, malnourished animals found at woman's property

A HUNGRY horse entangled in a wire fence was just one of many suffering animals the RSPCA found neglected and malnourished.

The underweight horse was simply trying to get into the next paddock for some green grass, after its own paddock ran out of feed.

A dead and decaying guinea pig was found in a cage with others, an Ipswich court was told this week.

Despite receiving several RSPCA warnings, owner Helen O'Keefe did not carry out any noticeable improvements to the property, which housed animals including guinea pigs, horses, birds, dogs and a turtle. She was charged with animal welfare and neglect offences.

Stargirl was neglected and starved.
Stargirl was neglected and starved.

Appearing before Ipswich Magistrates Court, Helen Marie O'Keefe, 50, pleaded guilty to seven offences under the Animal Care and Protection Act of breaching her duty of care to animals. This included failing to provide appropriate living conditions, feed, and failing to treat the animals.

She pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to comply with an animal welfare direction in February 2018.

The offences occurred at a Glenore Grove property in 2017 and 2018.

RSPCA prosecutor Adrian Braithwaite said an inspector found 13 guinea pigs in dilapidated cages, poultry, birds, five dogs, and several horses when visiting the property in February 2017.

The caged guinea pigs were under a veranda, many cages had limited water or were "bone dry". Some held dead bodies in various stages of decomposition.

The court was told there was no food or access to sunlight or suitable ventilation.

Birds including cockatiels, lovebirds and ducks were confined without adequate access to drinking water.

A bare paddock held a pony in good condition, and three horses in an "underweight to emaciated body condition".

The 13 guinea pigs were seized to be treated by a vet. All were underweight, and their coats wet or matted with faeces.

The court heard all horses were returned to good health and rehomed.

In October 2017, an inspector found two underweight horses, and a chestnut thoroughbred mare named Stargirl.

Mr Braithwaite said she was in terrible condition, emaciated with ribs, spine and hip bones prominent and stomach sunken.

Stargirl was weak and covered in rain scald sores, the court was told.

O'Keefe told the RSPCA inspector the horse had been at her property on agistment since September.

She said the horse had lost condition and recently collapsed on the ground.

Stargirl's owner later told the inspector she had been paying money to O'Keefe to provide food.

The horse's condition was so poor it could not be transported without veterinary examination.

She was later removed, with the vet assessment finding she was suffering starvation, and producing dark urine which was an indication of loss of muscle mass and organ breakdown.

An RSPCA inspection in November 2017 found a horse named Diesel in a bare paddock with no feed. Diesel was caught up in a barbed wire fence while attempting to gain access to the neighbouring paddock.

Diesel and another horse named Star were significantly underweight.

Four guinea pigs were found in cages contaminated by a build-up of faeces and urine.

An emaciated Brisbane short-necked turtle was in a tank under a patio.

O'Keefe was unable to show inspectors any turtle food, saying it must have gone missing.

A rainbow lorikeet was seen in a small dirty cage. The bird was non-responsive and appeared emaciated and sick.

A large number of birds were located in cages, some with no food and water.

An injured Indian ringneck parrot later died.

The RSPCA sought a prohibition order stipulating that O'Keefe must not have animals in her care without approval.

They also sought legal costs of $1500, and $47,000 for medical treatment and care.

Defence barrister Scott Neaves said O'Keefe, a mother of four, was quite industrious, working as a cleaner and doing voluntary community service.

He said the family had been financially struggling at the time while trying to set up a freight business.

As a result she had difficulty feeding the animals.

"She is an animal lover," he said.

He said the horse on agistment had been in a poor condition before its arrival.

Magistrate Donna MacCallum said claims O'Keefe was an animal lover were inconsistent with the facts before the court.

Ms MacCallum sentenced O'Keefe to a two-year probation order.

Taking into account O'Keefe had no prior convictions, Ms MacCallum did not record a conviction.

O'Keefe was ordered to pay the RSPCA $48,500 in expenses.

A Disposal Order was made for the forfeiture of two horses to the RSPCA.

A five-year animal Prohibition Order was made.

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