dog nail
An x-ray scan showing the nail through the dog's head RSPCA

Two men who hammered a nail into a dog's head and buried it alive in a failed euthanasia attempt have been jailed.

Michael Heathcock, 59 and Richard Finch, 60, said they had tried to kill the 16-year-old terrier, named "Scamp", because vet fees were too expensive.

The dog was discovered still alive under a mound of earth in October last year by two walkers, but had to be put down due to the severity of its injuries.

Dozens of animal welfare protesters rallied outside Teesside Magistrates' Court on Wednesday (1 February) as the two men, both from Redcar, were sentenced to four months in prison each.

Their guilty pleas to animal welfare offences saw them also banned from keeping animals for life.

The court heard Heathcock had owned Scamp for about 15 years and was upset when he became blind, deaf and incontinent.

Finch suggested putting the dog down, but Heathcock said he would be unable to afford a £300 vet bill – prompting him to drive a nail through his skull.

Burying the dog alive in Kirkleatham Woods, Redcar, a married couple found the animal after hearing a whimper under a mound of earth.

The pet was taken to a vet, who found several other puncture wounds to the head and described it as the worst case of animal cruelty he had ever seen.

Sentencing the pair, chairman of the bench Frances Linsley said: "This was a barbaric act which was premeditated and caused untold suffering to the dog Scamp."

Nick Jones said in his 10 years working as an RSPCA inspector he had never known anything "so horrifying and inexplicably cruel".

"This is clearly a very deliberate act of cruelty and it's inconceivable to think why somebody has done it to this poor little dog. It's likely more than one person was involved in this act of horrific cruelty due to the force needed to inflict such an attack," he said.

Dominic Tate, defending, claimed Heathcock loved the dog and "after 16 years of having Scamp and caring for the dog this was not his intention".

"He did not set out to cause unnecessary suffering," he said, as reported in the Northern Echo.

Redcar's Labour MP Anna Turley said the sentences handed down to the pair were "not enough". She said: "I am pleased they have received a custodial sentence for what they did, but the punishment is still not enough for the severity of the crime.

"The judge is limited by current sentencing guidelines and they will probably only be in prison for two months. These cases highlight the inadequacy of the law in the area of animal abuse and why my bill for tougher sentences is so desperately needed. I will continue to press for my bill to be heard to increase the maximum sentence from six months to five years."