A VET has escaped with a caution after the death of one of his labradors, which was left in a car for six hours on a hot day.
The incident has led to claims of a cover-up by the RSPCA, which pursues other dog owners who leave their pets trapped in sweltering conditions, and the vets’ governing body, which failed to take disciplinary action.
Both organisations have been accused of being too lenient – one even said the case was a “tragic accident” – to protect the career of Alex Gough, 37, from Clutton in Somerset.
It comes at the end of a week in which at least 10 dogs died after they were left in vehicles during a heatwave. In Nottinghamshire two police dogs were killed after their handler left them in a car as temperatures reached 28C outside.
Gough’s two labradors, Heidi and Rory, had to be given emergency treatment after they were rescued from the vet’s car in May 2007. Rory, a nine-month-old male, could not be saved.
At the time Damien Bush, Gough’s business partner and fellow vet, urged his colleague to report the incident to the RSPCA and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), which can discipline members for acts of misconduct.
Bush was surprised by the approach taken by both bodies. “An RSPCA official said to me, ‘If he comes to us and expresses remorse, then he may get off with a caution. To be honest, we don’t want to be seen to be going after vets because we rely on vets for goodwill’,” he said. “[Gough] then reported it to the RSPCA, which conducted a very discreet investigation. He was cautioned and it was all forgotten about,” added Bush, who fell out with Gough over the case. Gough has since moved to another practice.
The RCVS took no action against Gough because it decided that he had done nothing wrong.
Following Bush’s inquiry about the case, an official at the college wrote: “The weather was overcast, the car windows were left open and a bowl of water left for the dogs; a check was made during the morning.
“In general terms it would seem [Gough] cared for his animals appropriately and this incident should be seen as a tragic accident rather than anything else.”
In April the RCVS told a solicitor acting for Bush that “there has been no cover-up”.
“At no stage has it been asserted that Mr Gough intended to cause his animals to suffer, and to that extent what happened was an accident, nor has it been suggested that Mr Gough was generally anything other than caring towards animals,” wrote Jane Hern, the RCVS registrar.
The RSPCA has consistently urged owners never to leave dogs in their vehicles. They say that opening a window or providing a bowl of water inside a car is not sufficient to stop animals overheating. Those who are prosecuted and found guilty of allowing their dogs to suffer face a maximum penalty of six months in jail or a £20,000 fine.
The RSPCA insisted it showed “neither fear nor favour” in dealing with such cases. A spokesman said the Gough case was “treated like any other case”. He said punishments could vary from a caution to a full prosecution, but if someone admitted guilt and showed remorse it might lead to leniency.
The RCVS declined to comment because Gough’s case was now closed. Gough also refused to comment.