Mother and daughter allowed dogs to die 'painful and miserable' deaths
A mother and daughter who allowed a Jack Russell and a Staffordshire Bull Terrier to die "painful and miserable" deaths due to starvation have been banned from keeping animals for life.
Sandra Mullen (56) and her daughter Julie Mullen (26) - who have separate addresses at Cambrai Street in Belfast's Shankill area - were also ordered to serve 150 hours' community service after each admitting a charge of animal cruelty.
Belfast Crown Court heard that the dogs were found dead at the rear of Sandra Mullen's home after a council animal welfare officer visited in October 2016.
A vet who carried out a post-mortem noted that they were both severely underweight and their bodies had broken down muscle tissue to stay alive.
The Staffordshire Bull Terrier should have weighed 15 kilos but was only seven, while the Jack Russell should have been around five kilos but weighed just 1kg when it died.
The mother and daughter sat side-by-side as Judge Geoffrey Miller told them they were "utterly unfit" to look after animals due to "wilful neglect".
He also told the pair he rejected "excuses" they made in the aftermath of the discovery.
Crown prosecutor Michael Chambers said while the Mullens initially denied a charge of animal cruelty, they subsequently admitted causing the dogs unnecessary suffering between January and October 2016.
He told the court that when the animal welfare officer called at Sandra Mullen's home, she claimed the dogs had died the day before.
She said she had been putting food and water out for the Jack Russell but had never taken it to a vet as it was not licensed and had never been vaccinated.
She also claimed the dog had been "playing happily" the day before it died - which was branded "utter nonsense" by Judge Miller.
Mr Chambers added that when Julie Mullen was questioned about the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, she "adopted the same position as her mother".
Passing sentence, Judge Miller said: "I don't accept for one minute... they were unaware of the suffering these two animals endured."
He added that while he accepted the women didn't wilfully seek to inflict suffering, it was clear both were "utterly unfit" to care for any animals.
The judge said the custody threshold has been passed in the case, but as an alternative to sending the pair to prison they must instead complete 150 hours community service - with any breach of the order leading to a six-month prison sentence.
The women were also banned from keeping animals for life, and ordered to each pay £250 court costs.
Belfast City Council said its animal welfare officer discovered the dogs following a call from a concerned member of the public.
"The welfare of all animals is a high priority for Belfast City Council which operates a rigorous enforcement policy to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements," it said.
"All complaints are investigated thoroughly and in extreme and harrowing cases as with this investigation, the council will prosecute for offences to serve as a warning to anyone who does not take appropriate care of animals."