Officials confirmed on Friday that two guinea pigs and a cat belonging to former Russian spy Sergei Skripal are dead after detectives investigating Skripal’s poisoning sealed off access to his home in Salisbury, England.
Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal were found unconscious on a public bench in Salisbury in early March, and taken to a hospital in critical condition. Investigators determined that they had been poisoned by a nerve agent and believed that the pair was intentionally targeted.
When a veterinarian was finally allowed access to the property, it was too late for the pets inside, UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told multiple news outlets on Friday. It was not immediately clear how long the pets were in the home unattended or when the vet was permitted to enter.
The two guinea pigs were already dead, apparently from dehydration. The cat, a black Persian named Nash Van Drake, was severely malnourished and in a huge amount of pain, The Sun reported.
“A cat was also found in a distressed state and a decision was taken by a veterinary surgeon to euthanise the animal to alleviate its suffering,” DEFRA told CNN in a statement.
The agency added that it could not say whether there was any evidence the animals had been exposed to the nerve agent that poisoned Skripal, a 66-year-old former colonel with Russia’s military intelligence, and his 33-year-old daughter. Both were in stable condition as of Friday, doctors told The Associated Press.
BBC reporter Dominic Casciani said in a Friday tweet that Skripal’s home had been sealed “for operational safety reasons” shortly after the poisoning was discovered. He added it was not clear “when police knew of the presence of the animals in Mr Skripal’s home or whether anyone considered rescuing them.”
However, a local veterinarian told The Sun in March that he had called police the day after the poisoning was reported, offering to help with the pets. Friends of Skripal also reportedly did not know the whereabouts of the pets. In the same article, The Sun wrote that an unidentified source “close to the family” was under the impression that the pets had been taken away for testing.
A spokeswoman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals expressed grief over the fate of the animals in a statement sent to HuffPost.
“It is very sad to hear that these animals have died in such tragic circumstances,” she said. “However, we appreciate the emergency services were working in extreme and dangerous conditions in an incredibly fast-moving operation in an attempt to keep the public safe.”
Skripal was convicted in Russia of spying for the U.K. in 2006. In 2010, the U.K. granted him refuge. Though the Kremlin has denied being involved in the attack, the U.K. expelled 23 Russian diplomats in retaliation for the poisoning. More than 20 other countries, including the United States, have followed suit. Moscow, in turn, has also started reciprocally expelling diplomats, including 60 from the U.S.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova publicly brought up Skripal’s pets on Wednesday, asking reporters where the animals were and what their condition was.
“After all, we are talking about living organisms, and if a poisonous agent was used in the house, they must also have been affected,” she said, according to CNN.
The Russian embassy tweeted on Thursday that Skripal had two cats and two guinea pigs. It’s unknown where the second cat is.