A dog breeder kept dachshunds in rows of wooden cages in a pitch-black room with no water and inadequate bedding, a court was told.

The majority of the 26 dogs owned by 68-year-old Margaret Jamieson were suffering from ear infections, tooth disease and flea infestations, RSPCA prosecutor Kevin Campbell said.

Mrs Jamieson and her 66-year-old husband Richard Abraham deny seven animal welfare charges and appeared before Darlington magistrates for the first day of their trial.

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RSPCA inspector Ruth Coxon told how she visited the couple’s home in Heighington, near Darlington, in February last year following a complaint from a member of the public.

She became immediately concerned about two springer spaniels with matted fur that were kept in an outdoor kennel which was wet and dirty.

Once she had permission to enter the house with a vet and a police officer, Ms Coxon said she saw around ten dachshund dogs loose in the living room, with a further three caged in a cocker cage and a pet carrier.

She said Mrs Jamieson told her there were no other dogs in the house but barking was heard from another part of the building.

There they found a dark cold room attached to the house with daschunds inside.

Ms Coxon said: “They had no bedding in the cages, no water and there was no sign of any food.

“The room absolutely stank of urine, it was pitch dark to the point where we had to use a torch to see; there didn’t seem to be any electricity.

“There were two windows but they were so dirty we couldn’t see outside so they weren’t letting any light in.”

The dogs were seized by the RSPCA and one was so poorly it later had to be destroyed, with Mrs Jamieson's permission.

In her police interview, Mrs Jamieson, who bred dachshunds and used to enter them in shows, said she was unaware of her dogs’ ailments and put their dental problems down to old age.

She said that they were not kept in what she called the “cage room” for long, only when she had to go out.

Mr Abraham denied any involvement with the dogs, saying they were his wife’s hobby and he was never in the house because he worked long hours.

The trial continues tomorrow (Wednesday, January 7) and is expected to last four and a half days.