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UK Press: Man cleared of cruelty to water dragon

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Posted by W von Papineäu on May 14, 2003 at 22:30:20:

EASTERN DAILY PRESS (Norfolk, UK) 13 May 03 Man cleared of cruelty to water dragon
The owner of a reptile shop spoke of his relief after being cleared of causing unnecessary suffering to an exotic lizard which he attempted to nurse back to health.
Paul Skinner, 30, owner of the Hellesdon-based Norwich Reptile Co, told Norwich Magistrates' Court that he took the 15in Thai water dragon into his care after a couple turned up at the shop on February 24, 2002, and said they could not feed it or pay its vet bills.
At the time, the water dragon was severely malnourished and dehydrated and was suffering from mouth rot and mouth ulcers.
After being acquitted of the offence, which took 15 months to come to court, Mr Skinner said: “I haven't been able to plan anything and I've had to put my life on hold. At one point I was on a prescription for depression.
“Last February I thought I was doing something good but I felt victimised for it. I got a lot of support from customers and I'm glad I've been found not guilty.”
On Monday, the court heard from prosecution vet Timothy Roe, who examined the animal after it was confiscated by the RSPCA. He described its condition as “skin and bone”.
He said he took “emergency steps” to save it by inserting a stomach tube into the lizard via which fluids and nutrients were introduced. Antibiotics were also administered.
But, expert defence witness Mike Linley, who has a degree in zoology and breeds his own reptiles, said he disagreed with Mr Roe's overall diagnosis and treatment of the lizard.
Mr Linley, who never examined the water dragon but analysed pictures of it, said Mr Roe's earlier portrayal of the animal being at death's door was inaccurate. He also said he would only ever use a stomach tube on animals as “a last resort”.
During the trial, the court was told that Mr Skinner agreed to look after the water dragon for a few days but the owners never returned to reclaim it.
Then on February 27, 2002, RSPCA inspectors seized the animal after receiving a complaint from a member of the public about its condition.
After hearing all the evidence, District Judge Patrick Heley acquitted Mr Skinner on the grounds that he had only owned the water dragon for three days before the RSPCA's intervention. He said: “I find that Mr Skinner's failure to take the animal to the vet was not an unreasonable omission by him under the circumstances he came into possession of the animal.”
Judge Heley added that part of the prosecution's case was that the animal had been in Mr Skinner's possession for more than three days before being seized by the RSPCA – an allegation for which he said there was no evidence.
Following the verdict, Mr Skinner said he hoped the water dragon would be returned to him so he could find an appropriate home for it.

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