Scared, in pain, and weighed down by the heavy burden of a severely matted coat, little Emma needed help, and fast. The pain of carrying a coat of overgrown, knotted fur riddled with burs was unbearable. Luckily, Inspector Hayley came to her rescue.

Emma, an 11-year-old Maltese cross Shih-tzu, was exhausted and in pain, covered from nose to tail in hardened, matted fur and clusters of burs that itched and poked at her with every step.

Thankfully, someone noticed and called the RSPCA WA Cruelty Hotline. It was obvious when Inspector Hayley arrived at Emma’s home that she needed help.

“She was so matted it was almost hard to tell which end was which,” Inspector Hayley said.

“Her dreadlocks were thick and filthy, pulling at her delicate skin. She was so shy and skittish, just sitting next the washing machine in the laundry. But she was looking at me with hope in her eyes.”

Her owner was issued a direction notice to get her groomed, but after failing to comply, Inspector Hayley seized Emma and brought her back to the RSPCA WA Animal Care Centre so she could get the treatment she needed.

It is hard to imagine how someone could witness an innocent animal in pain day after day, struggling to walk, struggling to see, and do nothing help. This is the harsh reality for many animals who come into RSPCA WA’s care.

The saddest part is this suffering is entirely avoidable.

In Emma’s case, all she needed was consistent grooming. For dogs who don’t shed, like Emma, grooming neglect is a serious welfare issue.

Inspector Manager Kylie explains why she has grave concerns for the wellbeing of dogs suffering grooming neglect.

“Regular grooming is about so much more than looks. A matted coat can quickly become a welfare concern. It will pull on a dog’s skin, restrict their movement, and can lead to terrible eye, ear, and skin infections. It can also hide nasties that can cause a lot of harm such as grass seeds. It’s never ok to ignore a pet’s pain or discomfort."

Struggling to see through the dreadlocks of long, knotted fur around her eyes, Emma was terrified when she first arrived at the vet clinic. Inspector Hayley offered words of comfort, telling her she was going to finally get the help she needed.

The vets conducted a thorough medical examination and found that as well as struggling under a mound of matted, tangled hair, Emma was also suffering from untreated dental disease, and irritation from a grass seed that was embedded in knotted hair near the entrance to one of her ear canals.

Despite being no longer than your fingernail, a single grass seed can wreak havoc on a dog’s body. Because the seeds can burrow, some travel through the skin and muscle into organ tissue, causing widespread and long-lasting damage, sometimes even death.

Without RSPCA WA’s help, the grass seed in Emma’s ear could have resulted in permanent hearing loss.

Under general anaesthetic, Emma received a full body shave, freeing her of more than six months of dirt-ridden, overgrown fur that had been pulling at her skin.

Given Emma’s physical state, the vets concluded she had been in chronic discomfort.

Sadly, Emma is just one of many dogs who have suffered like this.

This year, RSPCA WA has seen a string of ungroomed dogs in similar condition to Emma come into care. Each of these animals has required expert treatment from the vet team to thoroughly assess the extent of their neglect and treat their health complications including lesions, abscesses and embedded grass seeds.

As the weather gets warmer and neglect cases continue to rise, we're concerned we will see even more.

The vets developed a special care plan for Emma that involved ongoing check-ups and carefully planned surgeries to treat the injuries sustained from the neglect she suffered.

They removed ten of Emma’s teeth that were damaged by untreated dental disease. And, they monitored for grass seeds and infections that could have been lurking under her skin.

Rescuing animals from neglect is just the first step in their rehabilitation. Providing them with emergency medical treatment and giving them a safe space to recover are just as critical. This important work is only possible with the support of animal lovers like you.

Emma was placed in a loving foster home where she could rest and recover. Under the expert care of her foster family, Emma’s health continued to improve. Her coat began to grow back, and she was able to eat, walk and play — pain free. Her dedicated foster parents fell in love with her and cannot wait to permanently add her to their family.

With the weight of her matted fur lifted and the irritation from the burs gone, Emma could finally begin to enjoy life again.