Margaret Greaves, a Crufts flyball winner, has been banned from keeping dogs for life - and all animals for three years - after an RSPCA investigation in April revealed the dreadful conditions her dogs were forced to live in: locked in crates stacked on top of each other with no food, no water, no blankets and no toys.
In total 30 adult dogs, six puppies, two cats and two parrots were found on the property in Sutton-in-Ashfield. Five dogs had to be put to sleep on veterinary advice, while one of the puppies died of natural causes after being removed from the property. The remaining animals have since been rehomed.
RSPCA inspector Laura Kirkham said, “They were living in their own little prison cells – it was absolutely horrific and not something you expect to see in this day and age. There was faeces and urine in the crates and, in some, there were two dogs in each. The smell was disgusting – it was so overpowering that it was burning my throat.
“We got the police and a vet out, who was not happy with the conditions of the animals and was very worried about one dog in particular who seemed very lethargic and depressed.”
Greaves, 64, ran a Nottinghamshire-based dog flyball team, the Mansfield Marnicks. The team took part in national and international competitions - including Crufts, where they won the 2014 flyball competition. Now current and former members of the team are struggling trying to come to terms with the news, and battling accusations of having known of the mistreatment of Greaves' animals.
Megan Smyth, who was in the team for about two years, was extremely unsettled by the allegations.
"The 'how did the team not know?' and 'why didn't they report her' comments are getting under my skin," she says. "Not one of the team knew about this, except her daughter-in-law and son. No one was allowed in or near the house. She hid it so well... If any of us had known, we would have reported her. No trophy, rosette or race is worth that life for any dog."
Helen Ward ward, who was Greaves' close friend and part of the team for years, was just as shocked to find out what had been going on at Greaves' farm. Despite the long-standing friendship, she had never trained at Greaves' farm and was entirely unaware of their situation.
"I was very close to Mags and spoke to her almost daily. She always told me how her dogs are her babies. We knew they were dirty, but it was a farm," she says. "I can't speak for the rest of the team but it was common knowledge you didn't go near the house. She always told me it was her private place and didn't want any of the team there. That was apart from her son and daughter-in-law.
"I knew her for almost 15 years and always believed that she was just rough around the edges but with a kind heart. I got that very wrong."
That of keeping out of the house was a rule team member Susan Heyer knew well, too.
"I needed to go to the toilet, and was told to use the toilet in one of the caravans," she recalls. "I didn't question it as I respected her privacy: I wouldn't want people walking through my house just because they were using my garden to train in. There wasn't one person there from the Marnicks apart from her daughter in law and son that went anywhere near her house.
"Had any of us had any idea of what was going on we would have done something about it, and not stood by and let those poor dogs suffer."
As well as the disqualification order on keeping animals, Greaves was given a 12-week prison sentence suspended for a year and was ordered to pay £500 costs, plus a £115 victim surcharge.
Images by RSPCA.