First she denied neglecting two cats under her care.
Then she said they escaped.
Then she said she found them dead.
Months later, she went back to the version they escaped.
In the end, former pet sitter Carlene Tracey Lovell’s ever-changing story about what happened to Tabatha and Snuffy resulted in her legal downfall.
In provincial court in St. John’s Tuesday afternoon, the 29-year-old Paradise woman was found guilty of animal cruelty by failing to care for the cats.
“It’s clear Miss Lovell is no stranger to telling a lie,” Judge Lynn Spracklin said in handing down the verdict. “It’s apparent she deliberately lied on several occasions.”
Lovell — who was a contract employee with the now-defunct Creature Care — was hired to care for the cats while their owner, Iain McGaw, was out of town from April 27 to July 4, 2010.
But the cats disappeared.
Police say Lovell didn’t care for the animals and they died as a result, although the bodies have never been found.
Throughout the investigation, Lovell gave three statements to police — each telling different versions of what happened.
She initially denied allegations of any wrongdoing.
Shortly afterwards, Lovell said the cats had escaped during one of her visits when she opened the front door.
A month later, when questioned again by police, she said the cats did die after she went almost two weeks without visiting. She said she disposed of the bodies in a remote area off Thorburn Road and even took officers to the site, but they found nothing.
But during the trial last month, Lovell testified she fabricated that story.
Judge went beyond Crown submission: defence
She said she lied because police told her she would be charged with theft of the animals unless she confessed they had died under her care.
While on the stand, Lovell said she took good care of the cats, visiting every second or third day while McGaw was away. She said she always made sure the cats had food and water and that their litter was changed and that, at one point, she made sure there was extra food and water for them.
But the judge didn’t buy it.
“Her testimony was not compelling,” said Spracklin.
The judge found it “hard to believe” two domestic cats would escape or that a trained animal professional would admit disposing of the cats’ bodies “just to improve her legal position.”
The judge did accept Lovell’s story she found the cats dead after failing to visit the house for close to two weeks.
“This statement is the only one with a ring of truth to it,” Spracklin said.
“In my view, this lady planned not to attend the house, since she put out extra food and water. She certainly knew what she was doing. A trained professional must have realized (what would happen by) failing to attend to them for that length of time.”
The judge added that while the cats’ bodies were not found, she believes the cats did die as a result of a lack of care by Lovell.
“I can’t find any other explanation,” the judge said.
Spracklin said that conclusion would be consistent with the testimony of a neighbour, who said Lovell went well over a week without visiting and that flyers had been building up on the front door of the house. The neighbour also testified she saw Lovell carrying a laundry basket, covered with papers, out to her car.
Neither Lovell nor McGaw were in court to hear the verdict.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 5. Lovell is expected to be in court at that time.
The Crown has proceeded by way of summary conviction, meaning the most Lovell could get is a six-month jail term.
Crown prosecutor Glynne Faulkner indicated she would seek a conditional sentence.
Lovell’s lawyer, Bob Buckingham, requested a pre-sentence report, with emphasis on Lovell’s social history, education history and risk assessment.
“We want the court to have an understanding of my client’s upbringing and the impact this will have on her future,” Buckingham told The Telegram outside court.
He said he will review the judge’s decision with Lovell in the coming weeks.
He noted his biggest concern was the fact that the judge not only found Lovell failed to provide proper care for the animals by not visiting enough, but that she “caused the cats’ demise.”
“The judge has gone further than what the Crown was submitting,” Buckingham said.