Who, age What Where When Last Known Address
Rosalind Gregson, 55 271 animals found

Silverdale, Lancashire, England

August 17, 2003  
Alan Gregson(1) 271 animals found

Silverdale, Lancashire, England

August 17, 2003  
Type of Crime Other Crimes #/Type of animal(s) involved Case Status Next Court Date
    246 dogs, 5 cats, 2 kittens, 16 birds, a rabbit, a chinchilla


(1) not charged


A couple who kept 244 dogs in squalid conditions are being investigated by the RSPCA after it raided their home following a tip-off from a member of the public.

Among the breeds the charity found were 22 shihtzus, 19 dachshunds, seven llasa apsos, 41 bearded collies, 28 yorkshire terriers, 12 chihuahuas, 20 pekinese, 37 poodles, a corgi and 57 mongrels.

The animals were kept in horrific conditions, with many suffering from possible malnutrition, mange and eye infections. Open tins of rotting meat, piles of rubbish and excrement were discovered at the property, in Silverdale, near Lancaster. It took inspectors two days to remove all the animals from the house.

An RSPCA spokeswoman said "Also removed into the RSPCA's care were 16 birds, including macaws, Amazon parrots and African greys, five cats, two kittens, one rabbit and a chinchilla."

The homeowners, Alan and Rosalind Gregson, who are in their 50s, had signed over 209 dogs, 12 parrots, five cats, two kittens, the rabbit and the chinchilla to the care of the RSPCA.

The charity said the couple had been cooperating with their investigation.   All the animals are being cared for at the charity's centres across the country.

Their neighbours had complained about the noise of barking dogs and the stench emerging from the property. They described the couple as recluses who had rarely ventured outside of their home.

Update 5/20/05:  Rosalind Gregson faces (and denies) charges of 49 counts of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal after 271 of them - 246 dogs, 16 birds, 5 cats, 2 kittens, a rabbit and a chinchilla.  RSPCA inspectors found many of the animals in a terrible state, and nine dogs had to be put down. dogs, cats, birds, a rabbit and a chinchilla - were found in her cottage in Silverdale, Lancashire, in 2003. RSPCA inspectors told Preston magistrates that the animals were living in poorly lit, rat-infested rooms, with little food or water. Many of the animals were emaciated, disease-ridden and covered in their own faeces. Nine of the animals were in such a poor state that they had to be killed.

The trial was widely reported in the press, alongside pictures of matted shih-tzus in cramped cages and a photo of the eccentrically attired Gregson, 55, clutching a plastic carrier bag. The condition of the animals was appalling, the scale shocking, but few will be surprised by the sex (or age) of the accused.

Although Gregson bucked the stereotype by keeping mainly dogs, she fits comfortably into the familiar "mad cat lady" mould. Every neighbourhood seems to have one. She is often warmly regarded and viewed as endearingly dotty (at least until the noise and smell kick in) and kindly neighbours may chip in with offers of pet food and sometimes pass new specimens into her care. In some - probably most - cases, the cat lady may be genuinely helping local waifs and strays, but stories about the cruelty of kindness regularly do the rounds on local news bulletins, and the RSPCA is not infrequently called in to prise neglected creatures from the paws of doting but grossly incompetent carers.

The Gregson case fits a well-worn pattern. Her home was run down, rubbish-strewn and stank of ammonia, and there had been complaints from neighbours about barking. Yet it is more than likely that Gregson meant no harm. Preston magistrates were told: "It is not the prosecution's case that this defendant maliciously caused cruelty to the animals in her home, simply that she allowed her obsession to collect animals to overwhelm her."

There is clearly a distinction to be drawn between those who do not care about the suffering they cause, or even enjoy it (such as Ian Draper, (see Draper case) who organized dogfights, a crime invariably committed by men), and "animal hoarders", who tend to believe they are doing a great deal of good. So, what causes this pet love gone bad? And is it true that most of this ill-judged affection comes from women?

The problem of animal hoarding is largely left to animal welfare organisations to sort out, and their priority, understandably, is to rescue the animals involved, with environmental health officers drafted in to tackle the situation if it poses a threat to public health. But, despite the seriousness and frequency of the problem, surprisingly little is known about what drives animal lovers to such cruelty. There has been little, if any, attempt to bring animal agencies together with social services to address the underlying causes; the animals and muck are the focus of attention while the hoarders themselves are often overlooked.

There is also a tendency, it has to be said, to expect women of a certain age to be a bit batty - and if they are single and don't have children, then so much the better for conforming to the cliche. The caricature of pet love as a warped displacement of maternal yearning is both common and historic - Plutarch complained about women who lavished affection on "brute beasts" instead of children, and George Orwell blamed the English obsession with pets for the "dwindled birth-rate".

When women cling to an ever-growing clutch of small animals, most of us are inclined to see motherly love gone awry, rather than a person with a mental health problem who is in need of support, which is more likely to be the case.

Hoarders typically believe that they, and they alone, can help these animals and they are hostile to offers of help from animal welfare organisations. Many hoarders are in a state of denial and won't accept that they live in squalor or that their animals are dead or dying.

The RSPCA says: "There has been very little research done into the hoarding of animals in this country, so it is difficult to give statistically accurate information about whether certain individuals are more likely to do this than others." It goes on to point out: "The RSPCA has prosecuted both men and women in cases of this nature." Research in the US, however, does suggest there is some truth in the stereotypes: although there have been cases, both here and in America, in which much younger people, couples and working professionals were found to be hoarders, 76% of hoarders are female; 46% are over 60; and more than half live alone.

Research into animal hoarding is still in its infancy but studies carried out suggest that hoarding might be a symptom of delusional, attachment or addictive disorders, dementia or obsessive compulsive disorder. Similarities have been drawn with people who hoard possessions, and animal collectors often also hoard junk.

Whatever the causes of animal hoarding, the RSPCA believes that the statutory duty of care proposed under the animal welfare bill, will make it easier for its inspectors to intervene earlier when there are signs of suffering and neglect. This is great news for the animals, but what happens to people such as Gregson once the court case is over? Research in the US found that, without a system of continuing support, recidivism approaches 100% even after prosecution and the removal of animals.

Update 6/11/05:  A woman who became obsessed by collecting animals and amassed 271 pets crammed into her cottage was jailed for three months after admitting cruelty charges.

Gregson pleaded guilty to nine offences of causing unnecessary suffering by failing to provide proper care and attention for the menagerie of animals.  She was disqualified from keeping animals or birds for life.

Preston magistrates heard how RSPCA inspectors could not believe how many animals were kept at her cottage in Silverdale, Lancashire.

The animals were emaciated, often covered in faeces and urine, and suffering from infections and injuries. The dogs included yorkshire terriers, old english sheepdogs and shih-tzus. The birds included a cockatiel, an african grey parrot, and a blue and gold macaw. She kept them in filthy conditions at her home with little water and food and inadequate ventilation.

Some dogs were unable to stand up to their full height. Neighbours had long complained about dogs barking from the rundown detached property.

The RSPCA began to visit Gregson's home in August 2003. The house was in a general state of disrepair with rubbish, cat litter and open packs of tinned dog food scattered around outside. The officers could hear dogs barking and a parrot squawking.

Gregson originally denied 49 charges of unnecessarily confining animals in unsuitable conditions for their species, but she later changed her plea to guilty on nine specimen charges midway through her trial. The remaining charges will lie on file after the prosecution offered no further evidence.

The prosecution said the obsession with collecting animals had overwhelmed Gregson after her son died following a drug overdose. It resulted in her losing control and the ability to care for the animals in her charge.

The RSPCA said it was the largest number of animals its inspectors had ever found in one house. When interviewed, Gregson admitted she knew she had too many animals, but it was an obsession which she was unable to stop.

"I knew I would get found out in the end," she said in an interview. "I knew it was just a matter of time. It just got out of hand."

Ann-Marie Gregory, defending, said over the past 15 years £82,000 had been spent acquiring animals. "This is not a case of wanton or malicious cruelty," she said.

Miss Gregory added: "It's about a tragic set of circumstances, it's about sadness, isolation, it's about the loss of a child, it's about despair, it's about obsession, and the list goes on and on. Those are the words that really sum up this case."

She said Gregson had spent hundreds of pounds at pet shops and parlours. She had led a sorry existence and did not know who to turn to. After the loss of her son she had received no counselling.

District judge Peter Ward told Gregson she had put her own needs above the needs of the animals. The offences were so serious only custody could be justified.


The Guardian