By Georgina Morris
A professional dog walker has been banned from keeping or caring for any dogs for two years after she admitted hitting a pet belonging to two clients.
Magistrates told Jacqueline Wilkins, owner of Wilkins Walkies, that she must also find someone else to care for her own dog until the disqualification expires.
Wilkins, 46, struck boxer Bella twice and shouted at her repeatedly when the dog would not stay still long enough for her to remove its harness after a walk.
She can be heard shouting “You’re not doing as you’re told, are you?” and “Do you want another smack?” in footage captured on CCTV cameras inside the Bramley home of owners Gary Hirtsch and Louise Williams.
Leeds Magistrates’ Court heard the couple had hired Wilkins when Miss Williams broke her wrist and was unable to walk Bella and their other dog, Coco.
They became concerned when Bella’s behaviour changed in February last year and made a report to the RSPCA after seeing the footage.
Prosecutor Andrew Davidson said: “What you can see there is what the defendant now accepts was unnecessarily rough treatment. The prosecution say there’s very rarely any reason for using that type of behaviour to discipline a dog.”
Wilkins, of Dorset Grove, Pudsey, admitted failing to meet the needs of a dog by protecting it from injury or distress.
She had initially pleaded not guilty but changed her plea following expert evidence about the psychological damage Bella may have suffered.
‘Moment of madness’
A separate charge of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal was dismissed.
Magistrates were told that Wilkins had experienced a “moment of madness” and felt she was disciplining Bella at the time, but now recognised her behaviour was wrong.
The court heard she was of previous good character and had told her clients about the case, prompting a number to write references and two of them to attend court in support.
A probation officer also reported that Wilkins had reflected on the harm she may have caused Bella and was “completely remorseful” about her actions.
Magistrate Brian Wright, acting as chairman of the bench, said she must complete a 12-month community order with 100 hours of unpaid work and an RSPCA education programme, and pay £300 in costs and an £85 victim surcharge.
He added: “We feel that we will have to give you a banning order for two years. For the next two years you are not allowed to deal with any dogs.”
Speaking afterwards, Mr Hirtsch said: “I feel relieved. We had put her in a position of trust. I think they’ve done the right thing for the safety of the other dogs.”
He said Bella’s behaviour had changed significantly following the incident, adding: “Bella was so friendly, but then she was reluctant to go out. She used to cower on the sofa.
Wilkins was visibly upset as she left the courtroom after being told that she would not be allowed to keep her own dog, Bentley, during the two-year ban.
Friend and client Janet Pearson said: “Obviously she’s not going to have an income now but the thing she’s most upset about is losing her dog. Her dog is like her baby.
“I think the court has made an example of her. If I thought she didn’t care and was cruel, clearly there’s no way she would look after mine. It’s not just a business to her though. Dogs are her life.
“She’s worried about her clients too. What are they going to do?”
Originally published on our sister title Yorkshire Evening Post