A woman who fled Australia after being convicted in a high-profile animal welfare case has been lying low in rural Northland under a new name since last year, Newshub can reveal.
Disgraced South Australia puppy farmer Dora Ryan moved to New Zealand in late 2020 with 26 horses and a large number of dogs before she could be sentenced over animal mistreatment charges.
It's understood she has been living on a property in Kaitaia since the move.
Australian authorities have a warrant for Ryan's arrest, and are currently considering extraditing her for sentencing - but Newshub has learned just months after her arrival, she's already been the subject of another animal welfare complaint under her new identity.
People Newshub spoke to who have been in contact with Ryan say some of her animals appeared to be emaciated or diseased, and that her neglect has caused at least one horse to die.
However they only learned of her true identity this week, when Australian media coverage about Ryan was shared on social media.
The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) are both aware of an animal welfare complaint about Ryan, with the latter now investigating.
'It was all so dodgy'
Letetia Kelly, the owner of NGO Equestrian in the Far North, first raised the alarm with SPCA and the MPI over the state of Ryan's animals in February this year.
Not knowing Ryan's criminal background, Kelly had befriended her after being hired to transport some of her horses from a quarantine facility in south Auckland to a property in Kaitaia on December 27, 2020.
"When I got there, I dropped these horses off and had a chat," Kelly told Newshub. "She had a stallion in a big steel pen and all these dogs living in an air freight crate. She was sleeping above a dog crate on a mattress."
It was clear Ryan was struggling financially so Kelly, feeling sorry for her, told her she didn't have to pay right away for transporting the horses.
"It was all so dodgy at the time, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt."
Another person, who spoke to Newshub on the condition of anonymity, said they could tell soon after meeting Ryan and her horses that they were in an unhealthy state.
They said they saw one horse that appeared to be very underfed, and at least two others who seemed to have nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism (NSH), a disease causing calcium deficiency.
"They were in exceptionally bad condition… they have all sorts of issues and injuries. Their feet aren't being looked after, they have dietary issues," the person explained.
"[Ryan] had nothing for the horses to eat. She has no knowledge of what to feed them, she doesn't know they need salt to stay healthy. It's clear she doesn't know how to handle them in the slightest."
Kelly says when she saw the horses more recently, some were covered in lice and ticks.
SPCA NZ 'across' situation
Kelly filed an official complaint with MPI and the SPCA earlier this year, accompanied by photos of the horses - one of which appears to be emaciated. An MPI spokesperson confirmed to Newshub it had received Kelly's complaint, and transferred the case to the SPCA in February.
The SPCA was unable to share details of its investigation, but told Newshub it had been notified of Ryan's presence in New Zealand by its Australian counterpart the RSPCA, and was "across it".
Newshub understands an SPCA inspector first visited Ryan a few weeks ago, but Kelly says Ryan was able to hide the condition of many of her animals because she'd moved most of them to a neighbour's property.
It's understood another SPCA inspector visited her on Wednesday afternoon after Newshub made enquiries.
Police were unable to comment on whether they were involved.
Kelly says it's likely Ryan's horses have deteriorated further in recent weeks, and she knows of at least one stallion dying and the stillbirth of a foal.
While Kelly still feels sympathy for Ryan, and believes the neglect isn't deliberate or malicious, she's sickened by what she's seen.
"I can't stand people who do this to animals - it's disgusting. She's not quite right in the head."
Kelly says she spoke to Ryan on Tuesday night, urging her to do something about the animals in her care to ensure their long-term welfare.
"I said to her 'do the right thing, get rid of the horses - do the right thing before the police come... I don't know what's happened, but you've got some problems and you need to go and get help - you're in the wrong'."
It's understood the farmer who took on Ryan's horses has told her he only has space for eight of them, and has told her to find somewhere else to home the others.
After repeated requests for comment, Ryan told Newshub she was working with the SPCA, but wouldn't comment any further.
A history of animal neglect
Ryan has been found guilty of 33 animal mistreatment charges in recent years.
An initial case in May 2017 came after an RSPCA inspection at her property near Port Pirie, South Australia revealed she'd been keeping animals in enclosures covered in rotting bones, urine and faeces.
Inspectors say she had 75 dogs at the property, including puppies, along with 45 horses, 25 chickens and seven sheep.
A total of 27 dogs were seized, although this came too late to save four German shepherds, whose health problems were so advanced they had to be euthanised.
She was later found guilty of 27 counts of ill treatment of an animal.
Just two years later in May 2019, five of Ryan's emaciated horses and a Pomeranian were seized, as well as a Pomeranian. She was found guilty of six more animal neglect charges in November 2020.
It was shortly after this that Ryan travelled across the Tasman but not until March 2021, when Ryan failed to show up for sentencing, that Australia's RSPCA enquired about her whereabouts and learned she had flown to New Zealand, which she was able to do despite COVID-19 restrictions as she's a Kiwi resident.
RSPCA South Australia chief inspector Andrea Lewis told ABC News she was "disappointed" Ryan had opted to "flee the country rather than accept the punishment she was due".
"We have done a lot of hard work on this case, and a lot of animals have suffered over a long period of time."
Lewis said the RSPCA was confident she would take up animal ownership again in New Zealand, as it's "one of the only ways she knows to make money".
"It's nice that we have been able to stop her breeding in this country. We will be trying to help our counterparts in New Zealand with any information we can provide that will help them try and stop her over there."