Police have been accused of cruelty after keeping a death row dog in a tiny cage without exercise – for TWO years.
Stella, described as a pit-bull like dog, was seized in 2014 and a court this month ordered she be put down after a string of appeals from her owner were rejected.
But a whistleblower has come forward to condemn police for their treatment of “dangerous” dogs and for never letting Stella out while she waited for her fate to be sealed.
Laura Khanlarian says officers from Devon and Cornwall Police ordered Stella not to be touched – and kept her locked up up in a 1m by 3m cage.
She only left the cage twice, both times for behaviour assessments.
Laura, of Torquay, Devon, who was working as an assistant at the kennels at the time, spoke out after she was told by police not to exercise any dogs held under the Dangerous Dogs Act.
She said: “We were always told not to exercise or go into a kennel with any dogs, regardless of character, that had been brought in under the Dangerous Dogs Act.
“We were under no circumstances allowed to touch any of those dogs at all under any circumstances – which was hard.
“Animal welfare comes before anything, and that was my job. I don’t believe I would be doing it properly if I would sit back and think that’s ok. It wasn’t ok – it’s not ok.”
Devon and Cornwall Police have declined to comment on Stella’s case, but an officer said they were bound by the court’s decision in dealing with dangerous dogs.
But animal welfare charities and experts have described the police action as “cruelty.”
Kendal Shepherd, a vet of 30 years and animal behaviour expert, said: “It’s terrible. It’s unjustified. It’s wasting huge amounts of money and it’s not doing a single thing to prevent dog bites.
“It’s cruel. But it’s what our system forces us to do.”
The police have also been accused of breaching the good practice guidelines produced by the RSPCA which has been issued to all police forces.
It states: “Dogs must be provided with the opportunity to exercise away from their kennel at least once a day and this should be for a total of at least 30 minutes.”
Stella, described as a pit bull-type dog, was considered potentially dangerous because of her breed, her behaviour when police seized her and her behaviour in assessments.
Court proceedings heard from her owner Mr Antony Hastie, 32, from Torquay, Devon, who said there were no incidents of aggressive behaviour prior to her being seized.
Evidence heard during the court case included video footage of Stella’s behaviour after she had spent nearly two years locked in the kennel.
Mr Hastie attended court 11 times over Stella, but in February 2016 it was ruled she should be destroyed.
Sgt Allan Knight, from the Devon and Cornwall Police dog handling unit, said the force has released dogs back to their owners during proceedings in the past.
He said: “There will always be some dogs, for whatever reason, that cannot go back, and cannot get walked by staff because of the danger they possess.
“We are bound by the court process.”
Devon and Cornwall Police later responded to criticism about their treatment of Stella and said she was the only dog deemed too dangerous to walk in the last two years.
A spokesman said: “The Dangerous Dogs Act was introduced to help reduce the number of adults and children attacked and bitten by dangerous dogs.
“In the past two years, in the region of a hundred dogs have been seized by Devon and Cornwall Police.
“During this time Stella, an illegal breed that had to be seized, has been the only dog deemed too dangerous to walk due to her aggressive behaviour.
“Once the dog was seized, an initial review was made in which the decision was reached that Stella was too dangerous to be exercised by kennel staff.
“This assessment remained under constant review and a number of further examinations were made by independent external experts including the RSPCA, who were all in agreement that the animal was too dangerous for staff to exercise.
“At all times we must balance the needs of the welfare of the animal and the safety of kennel staff.
“The long established, licensed and accredited kennel in question was in agreement with our assessment.
“The dog has had continual kennel enrichment with staff and remained in fine and fit condition throughout.
“The court heard and accepted evidence from the police and independently appointed animal behaviourists that Stella has unpredictable and dangerous behaviour patterns.
“This dog has threatened and shown aggressive behaviour towards two Police Community Support Officers.
“There were also occasions where Stella showed aggressive behaviour prior to being seized, which were fully described in court. Stella then attempted to bite a court appointed independent expert during the dog’s assessment.
“Presented with all the facts, the court decided that the owner was not a fit and proper person, and the dog was so dangerous that the only option was for Stella to be destroyed.
“The length of this criminal case is extremely rare. None of the adjournments were requested or caused by Devon and Cornwall Police.”
Stella’s owner Antony Hastie, 33, accused the police of making ‘a mockery’ of the process and said she was never dangerous or aggressive.
He said the dog was taken from him by police who ruled that she was ‘ an illegal breed’.
He said: “I just want to forget about it. The police have made a complete mockery about it.
“It is a complete farce. If it would have been any other dog it would have been given back.
“Stella was forcibly taken from me by police in full riot gear. The dog have never been any problem.
“She has since been massively neglected. I nearly had kidney failure because of it.
“It is a big con at the end of the day. Stella was not dangerous and not aggressive.
“You confine any animal to a box you will see how angry it gets.
“If I was not such a strong person this would have broken me to bits. I just don’t want them to do it to anyone else.”
Antony, from Torquay, Devon said he had now exhausted the appeal process and he had to accept she would be destroyed.
A ruling was made on February 8, at Torquay Magistrates’ Court that Stella should be put down.
Antony has been given 28 days to appeal and it is understood Stella is still at the kennels waiting to be destroyed.
Laura Khanlarian, 31, of Torquay, said she spoke out after becoming concerned at the treatment of Stella and another pit-bull type dog called Vincent at the Foredowne Kennels, Kingskerswell, Devon.
She worked there for 27 months until quitting on 5 November last year.
Laura, who now works as a cleaner and dog groomer, said: “Every dog should be exercised. She should have been enriched and she was not.
“I made the decision to do this simply because I thought it was wrong.
“I worked at those kennels for 27 months and on 5 November I stepped down.
“The reason was that I had phoned up the owner’s solicitors before a court hearing about Stella offering to help.
“The kennels found out I was in touch with the owner and was supporting him in court proceedings, so they said they said they had to give me an immediate suspension.
“They reminded me that as I was under contract I was not allowed to say anything else.
“I went straight to my car to write a note of resignation and that was it.
“I did not get into animal care to just sit back and allow this to happen. It would tear my soul apart to carry on working there.
“But I had to leave my job as I was in breach of my contract for speaking out.
“My only hope is that in the future the courts, police and kennels up and down the country can look at the dogs as individuals and not just the breed.
“The ideal situation is that they don’t stay in kennels unless they are absolutely a danger to society.
“But what I witnessed I found very disturbing.
“These kennels are not going to take the dogs out. They will whatever they are told to keep these contracts. From what I understand the police paid them £10,000 to keep Stella for two years.
“I can not accept that because that it is wrong.
“I was contacted by the police to keep the dog. We, as kennel staff, sign a contract of confidentiality, but I decided to break that.
“There was another dog there called Vincent who also didn’t leave his cage but was put down after two years.
“There is not any good reason for it. I could have taken her and Stella out. There is no doubt about that.
“I asked but was always refused.”
Laura said Vincent was another pit-bull type breed who was treated in much the same way as Stella.
She added: “They were both lovely dogs. I went in the kennel with Stella many times even though I should not have and she was absolutely fine.
“The video of her being aggressive was just her reaction to the police. With a responsible owner yes, she would be absolutely fine.
“In two years time she never went anywhere. She never got a walk and never went outside.
“The police would come with come dressed in riot gear and would douse her with spray to drag her off to be checked. Is there any wonder she would act in a scared and aggressive way to that.
“With us, she was totally different.
“I loved her to bits. Many loved her. She stood out because her owner kept fighting for her. He was someone who cared about her so much.”
The case of Stella will be featured BBC Inside Out South West tonight at 7.30pm on BBC One and will be on i-Player.
Stella is four and half years old according to her owner Antony Hastie.
Antony is 32, and not 33, as said in previous copy.
Bosses at Foredowne Kennels have declined to comment on the revelations regarding Stella’s care.
They also refused to confirm the allegations that they were paid £10,000 by Devon and Cornwall Police to look after her.
But general manager Samantha Wills accused Laura Khanlarian of causing ‘irreparable damage’ to the company by her whisleblowing actions.
In a letter last November confirming the end of her employment she wrote: “We have very grave concerns that your recent actions may have caused irreparable damage to the business operation.
“With this in mind, we have instructed our legal representative to consider the circumstances that culminated in the termination of your contract and advise us as to our position over legal redress.”
Police have so far been unable to comment on the amount of money paid to look after Stella at the kennels.
A spokeswoman for the RSPCA said it visited the kennels last year following concern about Stella’s care.
She said: “The RSPCA was contacted regarding Stella in April 2015. To ensure Stella’s welfare could be safeguarded in kennels, we provided general advice to protect the welfare of dogs in kennelled environments and provided the police force with a copy of the RSPCA’s welfare of seized dogs in kennels – a guide to good practice.
“This is standard practice where concerns about a dog seized under the Dangerous Dogs Act (1991) are raised with the RSPCA.
“Our experts also advised that where concerns remained, further advice should be sought from a vet and a clinical animal behaviourist so that an individual management plan can be developed whilst the dog is in the police’s care.
“After concern was raised to us about Stella in November last year, a visit was undertaken by an RSPCA officer and we understand that the police were given advice by experts, including animal behaviourists, that the dog should not be walked in the interest of public safety.”