28 October 2022

German shepherd was starved to death by owner who escaped conviction

| Albert McKnight
Law Court

A 37-year-old woman has been sentenced on a charge of animal cruelty causing death, but was spared a conviction. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

CONTENT WARNING: Readers may find details in this story distressing.

A court heard a woman who starved her German shepherd to death had such poor mental health she was unable to care for herself, let alone her pet, before she was spared a conviction over her actions.

She had been given the dog by her nephew in October 2020 because it was thought that having a pet would help her through a rough patch, the ACT Magistrates Court heard on Wednesday (26 October).

The dog, named Lucy, came from the Queanbeyan Pound. In 2021, the woman began keeping her indoors for long periods of time, often up to 72 hours, while also only feeding her minimal amounts of food, court documents say.

When visiting the home, the nephew saw Lucy had become extremely skinny and it was easy to see her ribs and backbone. He also thought she had trouble standing up due to her condition.

He and his girlfriend returned to the south Canberra home that May with the aim of taking Lucy away, but his aunt was not home and they could not find the dog. However, they did find a sickening stench coming from the laundry and something wrapped in a white sheet on its floor.

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The RSPCA and rangers were called to the home the next month and found the dog’s body wrapped in a white sheet in the backyard.

A veterinarian reported Lucy had been suffering from malnutrition and illness caused as a result of starvation at the time of her death.

The woman pleaded guilty to a charge of aggravated cruelty to an animal causing death and on Wednesday, lawyer Andrew Fraser of Fraser Criminal Law told the court his 37-year-old client had given up on herself at the time and her dog had unfortunately been caught up in that situation.

Mr Fraser said she’d had difficulty attending to her family’s needs, let alone her dog’s, and “she really is at the lowest of low points”.

He said there would be media interest in this case and Special Magistrate Margaret Hunter jumped in to say, “Usually with good reason. But this is a very unusual circumstance”.

Special Magistrate Hunter said the woman’s mental health had declined so much at the time that she couldn’t care for herself. No-one had stepped in to help her and she was isolated due to the period’s COVID-19 restrictions, she said.

“As we say, pity rather than despising,” the special magistrate said.

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Prosecutor Chamil Wanigaratne said there should be some understanding for the woman’s situation, but the pity also extended to the dog.

He said when the woman was questioned by the RSPCA, she tried to give a different story about why her dog died.

Mr Fraser asked for a non-conviction order – which Ms Wanigaratne opposed – partly due to her mental health condition.

Special Magistrate Hunter said if someone had killed a dog like this wilfully or intentionally, then they would be going to jail. However, she said due to the particular circumstances in this case a non-conviction order was appropriate and granted it.

She sentenced the woman to a 12-month good behaviour order and banned her from keeping animals for two years.

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