A father and son who run a Liverpool-based donkey business have been sentenced in court after pleading guilty to causing unnecessary suffering to five of their donkeys.

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Eric Wheeler (DOB 26/2/1933), of Dalemeadow Road, Liverpool, and Ronald Wheeler (DOB 6/10/1976), of Thomas Lane, Liverpool, pleaded guilty on Monday (5 June) to five offences each of causing unnecessary suffering to five donkeys by failing to address their poor body conditions.

Ronald Wheeler also pleaded guilty to three offences of failing to meet the needs of three of the donkeys, by not tending to their overgrown hooves.

A district judge at Liverpool Magistrates Court sentenced Eric to a two-month community order and Ronald to a three-month community order. They were also ordered to pay costs of £800.

Liverpool Magistrates Court heard that the five donkeys – called Pepper, Toby, Domino, Lily and one unnamed – were used in public events such as fairs, nativity plays and parties.

RSPCA inspectors Louise Showering and Claire Fisher, and welfare officers from the Donkey Sanctuary charity, visited the donkeys on 19 February last year after concerns were raised by a member of the public.

Inspector Fisher said: “These five donkeys were clearly underweight which had led to them suffering unnecessarily, as well as having overgrown hooves which would have made walking uncomfortable. One of the donkeys, Lily, was also suffering from rain scald – a skin disease seen in equines – which was clearly causing her discomfort.

“Eric and Ronald Wheeler run a donkey business and should have known that five of their donkeys required veterinary treatment. The suffering that these donkeys endured could have been so easily avoided if they had been cared for properly. Anyone who owns an animal, no matter how many, has a legal responsibility to care for that animal and to ensure that they do not suffer unnecessarily.”

Hannah Bryer, senior welfare adviser for the Donkey Sanctuary, said: “Five donkeys came into our care last year following an investigation led by the RSPCA. They were extremely thin, with very little fat or muscle coverage of their spine, ribs and hip bones. They also had overgrown hooves.

“The vet found that all five donkeys had been caused to suffer unnecessarily as their owners had failed steps to investigate or address their poor condition. All five donkeys have since improved in our care after being provided with a suitable diet and any necessary veterinary and farrier care.

“Keeping donkeys can be a very rewarding experience but one which should only be undertaken with the knowledge and commitment to care for them properly. As commercial operators, the defendants held a position of trust, not only to the donkeys in their care, but also to members of the public who used their services.

“We hope these convictions serve as a reminder to all that the welfare of donkeys used for commercial purposes is as equally important as those kept privately as companion animals. The Donkey Sanctuary continues to provide advice on donkey care and welfare, in addition to guidelines for working donkeys, all of which can be found on our website or by contacting the welfare department.”