22 February 2024

$2000 fine after woman failed to care for 12-year-old dog with painful ear infection

| Albert McKnight
john o'keefe and tessa jade woodcock leaving court

Tessa Jade Woodcock shared a smile with her lawyer, John O’Keefe, after he successfully fought against her being banned from owning animals. Photo: Albert McKnight.

A woman who refused to care for her dog after it developed a painful ear infection has been fined, although a magistrate stopped short of banning her from owning animals for the next decade.

In an ACT Magistrates Court hearing earlier this month, Tessa Jade Woodcock, 42, was found guilty of failing to provide appropriate care for an animal.

Magistrate Ian Temby said her dog, a 12-year-old pitbull called Narla, had developed an ear infection over a period of time. When she was taken to the RSPCA in May 2023, she would have been in pain, he said.

He said Woodcock was aware of the infection but failed to treat it or seek assistance from a vet. However, he also said it was not that she didn’t care about her dog, but had “a cavalier attitude as to what the animal’s needs were”.

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The author of a court duty report said Woodcock maintained she was not guilty. She claimed she’d had the dog since it was five years weeks old, loved it dearly, would never neglect it and had given it medications.

Her lawyer, John O’Keefe, said that while she had a criminal history, this was her first offence against an animal. He pointed out that Magistrate Temby hadn’t found she’d committed animal cruelty.

He also said Narla was currently in good health and had been an important companion for Woodcock, who works as a mechanical assistant for an auto wrecker in Fyshwick.

Narla was taken to the RSPCA with an ear infection in May 2023. Photo: RSPCA.

The prosecutor asked for her to be banned from owning animals for 10 years, partly as the court had heard about the state Narla had been in and the experience of pain and discomfort she must have had.

The prosecutor argued that the court could have no confidence Woodcock would provide appropriate care for the animal.

Mr O’Keefe argued against the ban, saying 10 years was an “extraordinarily long time”.

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He also argued that as the dog was now 13 and had health issues, it would be very hard to rehome her, so if she had to be surrendered, “it will effectively be like a death sentence”.

“It might spend the rest of its life in a cage or even get put down,” he said.

“To remove Narla from Tessa’s care would be a bad outcome for her and the dog.”

Magistrate Temby noted how Narla had been returned to Woodcock’s care after she had been treated, and there was no evidence that the RSPCA had expressed concerns about returning her at the time. He refused to make a 10-year ban.

But he also said he needed to clarify that if a person had control of an animal, it was important to take appropriate care of that animal.

tessa jade woodcock leaving court

Tessa Jade Woodcock was fined $2000 over the treatment of her dog. Photo: Albert McKnight.

Woodcock was fined $2000, with six months to pay.

Afterwards, RSPCA Inspector Dunstan said it had been a “substantial financial penalty”.

“It’s disappointing that the criminal ban was denied,” he said.

However, he said the financial penalty she received was a good result, as it was “starting to move forward with the community’s expectations”.

Inspector Dunstan said the RSPCA would continue to work with other agencies to detect offences and, if found, would have no hesitation in bringing defendants before the court.

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