Published: 00:00, 15 September 2005
| Updated: 12:54, 16 September 2005
A 58-year-old vet has been found guilty of cruelty to a cat and causing it unnecessary suffering.
Laurence Swift, who used to practise in Herne Bay, denied the charges during a two-day hearing at Canterbury magistrates' court.
But he was found guilty, fined a total of £600 and ordered to pay £1,000 towards the RSPCA’s prosecution costs.
At the time of the hearing, Swift, of Ivanhoe Road, Herne Bay, had already been struck off for flouting Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons’ advice about the use of unlicensed drugs.
He had also been suspended following a conviction for indecent assault on a young girl.
Magistrates heard how a pensioner watched in horror as Swift forced a tube containing a cocktail of drugs down the cat’s throat, causing the animal to choke.
The pet, called Blue, died two days later from aspiration pneumonia caused by the fluid entering its lungs.
Joan Williams and her son, David, from Birchington, had taken their cat to Swift at the St Francis Clinic because he was losing fur and aggravating the area by licking it.
After treatment, and as they were about to leave, Mr Williams mentioned the cat had vomited the day before.
Lee Bennett, prosecuting for the RSPCA, said: “Without asking any further questions or explanation he drew off some solution he called Feldmar’s Formula from a dirty looking bottle, forced open the cat’s mouth and injected the liquid into Blue, who cried out and appeared terrified.
“The animal regurgitated some liquid and gasped, choked and defacated.
“Mr Williams was left to clean Blue up who was clearly shocked and still coughing and foaming at the mouth.”
Mr Bennett said: “In Mr Swift’s surgery, the cat did not present severe symptoms prior to the treatment, which was medically unecessary and clinically inappropriate.
“It was clearly an invasive procedure which was not justified and the cat’s reaction was immediate and dramatic.”
David Williams told the court: “He just dumped Blue back in his basket and started tapping away on his computer.
“He took no interest in the cat whatsoever afterward. We paid the bill and left because he is a vet and is supposed to know what he was doing. But I was gobsmacked.”
The cat’s condition deteriorated during the night and it taken to another vet in Margate the following day who diagnosed aspiration pneumonia. Blue never recovered and had to be put to sleep.
Geoffrey Shawcross, who ran the practice at the time, but is now retired, said an X-ray clearly showed the cat had inhaled the solution into its lungs.
He said that all the veterinary text book advice was against intubating a cat without anaesthetic.
In court, Mr Swift defended his actions saying his use of Feldmar formula – a homemade cocktail of drugs – was the best course of action.
He said: “Taking into account the cat’s previous history of being a scavenger and eater of wildlife, I thought the vomiting was some gastric problem, and that was my presumptive diagnosis.
“I plumped for the Feldmar mixture and made it up myself from drugs on the shelf. The recipe came from a friend and I have administered it to cats many times with the use of a flexible tube to the stomach and a syringe.”
Asked if he accepted responsibility for Blue’s death, he replied: “Yes, it was an accident. It wasn’t meant to happen.
“He suffered, but I was doing what I thought best for the cat. Hindsight is a great thing.”
Defence counsel, John Corless said: “Mr Swift says it was something he had done before and it had been successful.
“There wasn’t a guilty knowledge that unnecessary suffering was going to be caused. Mr Swift clearly did not intend, in any way, shape or form, to be cruel to this animal.”
But chairman of the bench Mrs Jean Thomson said: “We find that the treatment was not reasonable, necessary or justified and the cat was filled with terror. This was an unacceptable procedure on an unsedated cat causing terror, suffering and unnecessary cruelty.”
Swift was fined £300 on each offence and ordered to pay £1,000 towards the prosecution costs.
JUSTICE for Blue will cost the RSPCA at least £17,000 after magistrates reduced a claim for prosecution costs from more than £18,000 to just £1,000.
Following the guilty verdict, prosecutor Lee Bennett submitted a claim for costs of £18,689.14 – the total legal fees for the charity to bring the case against Laurence Swift.
Explaining the high figure, Mr Bennett told magistrates that this was a private prosecution brought by the RSPCA which will therefore have to cover all the associated fees for prosecution.
He said: “The RSPCA has to pay commercial rates for lawyers and the reality is that prosecuting somebody costs a lot of money.”
A spokesman for the RSPCA confirmed that the charity would be meeting the remaining costs from its own pocket.
She said: “The money comes out of charitable donations made to the society, unfortunately it is very rare that we recoup all costs on a court case such as this.”
But case officer Colin Kirkwood was sure it was money well spent.He said: “Justice has been done. It sends out a clear message to all that if you are cruel, mistreat or neglect an animal, irrespective of who you are, you will suffer the consequences.”