A COUNTY Durham dog breeder has denied causing unnecessary suffering to animals.

Darlington Magistrates’ Court heard today (Tuesday, April 15) that 34-year-old Steven Hutchinson kept 44 dogs and six puppies kennelled at his property at Evenwood Gate, Bishop Auckland.

They were mostly small bichon frise and pug type dogs but also included an akita, a German shepherd and a lurcher.

The RSPCA visited the property in March last year and took film footage of the animals’ living conditions to present to the court as evidence.

The footage showed faeces scattered across the floor of the stable-like kennels, and RSPCA inspector Ruth Coxon said there was a strong smell of urine from at least two of the kennels, one of which had compacted damp sand as its base.

Some of the dogs were later found to be suffering from conjunctivitis, dental problems and ear infections.

The court also heard from a woman who had bought a £350 bichon frise / shih tzu cross puppy from Mr Hutchinson only to discover the following morning that it had pus weeping from its eye.

A vet diagnosed an eye infection and also aged the puppy as between three and five weeks old –at least two weeks younger than the seven to eight weeks that a puppy should be sold at.

The vet described the puppy as being “vacant” and concluded that its weight at just 750grams suggested that it been weaned from its mother too early and had not been given the correct nutrition to ensure it grew properly.

David Ward, speaking for the defence, contested the vet’s ageing of the puppy, saying that even after it had lived in its new home for three weeks it was still very small and lightweight.

Referring to the animals’ living conditions, he pointed out that each of the kennels had ample food and water and that puppies and bitches with litters were separated from the other dogs.

Working heat lamps were also installed inside several kennels and bottles of flea and worm treatment were in evidence.

Mr Ward said the RSPCA’s film footage was taken in the morning before Mr Hutchinson had a chance to clean out the kennels which contained either straw, carpet or sawdust as bedding for the dogs.

Mr Hutchinson denies ten animal welfare charges and the trial is expected to last for five days.