VOLUNTEERS have spoken of their devastation at closing an animal rescue group after the group’s founder was convicted of neglecting her pets.

Members of the Emergency Animal Rescue Service (Ears), based at West Tanfield, near Ripon, said the group’s reputation had suffered irreparable damage when Dorothy Harland admitted five counts of animal neglect.

Harrogate magistrates banned her from keeping animals for ten years after hearing the 58-year-old, who devoted her life to saving unwanted dogs from destruction, had allowed her attachment to her four dogs and three cats at her Harrogate home to come before their need to have clean living conditions.

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Since being launched in 2011, the Emergency Animal Rescue Service (Ears) had saved 150 dogs and 30 cats from "urgent put-to-sleep situations", after being contacted by vets, owners or sanctuaries.

It placed the unwanted and often elderly animals in foster care, and retrained them, so they could be rehomed, and held regular events in Thirsk and Bedale to raise funds for the group.

Volunteer Julie Hart, of Bedale, said only one member of the group had been aware of allegations before the court case.

Mrs Hart said: “It has been devastating for everybody as the case has tainted Ears. People have been sick and in tears, we were all gobsmacked.

“No other rescue organisation will talk to us, for example the pounds are unlikely ever to give us a dog.”

She said the group had held an emergency meeting in an attempt to relaunch the network of volunteers, but despite receiving overwhelming support from sponsors and supporters it had become clear the group would always be linked to Ms Harland.

Mrs Hart said: “All we ever want to do is help save dogs from death row and send them to a better life.

“We are still in a state of shock at the moment, most of us have been in the rescue world as volunteers for many years, so I am sure people will want to carry on volunteering in some way.

“The area has taken us to its heart and the support we have received recently has been amazing.”

Ms Harland said she believed the group could have continued its work.

She added: “Everything in the court case was nothing to do with the group, but rather my personal life. It’s a very sad day.”