‘Dog was starving, almost dead’

Rosie
Rosie Gillingham
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Lakeview man on trial after neighbour finds Rottweiler chained to tree

When Loretta Carns made her way up her neighbour’s driveway to get to her property next door, she expected to see nothing more than a few car wrecks.

But what she discovered was much more devastating.

“I was horrified by what I saw,” she said.

In an area of forest to the left of her neighbour’s house, an emaciated Rottweiler mixed-breed dog was chained to a tree.

The 11-year-old dog — named Lady — was so underweight, the bones in her ribs, hips and legs were protruding from her body.

“She was just a layer of skin covered in hair on a skeleton,” Carns said, testifying Wednesday in provincial court in St. John’s at the trial of her neighbour, Christopher Whelan.

Whelan faces animal cruelty-related charges, including failing to provide adequate food, water and shelter for an animal.

On Aug. 31, 2012, Carns was making arrangements to have a few old car wrecks removed from her land next to Whelan’s house, which can’t be seen from the road.

She said she was shocked to see the dog and the condition it was in.

She said the chain was so tight around the dog’s neck, she wouldn’t have been able to fit her fingers underneath it.

There was no food, she said, only a water dish that had been tipped over.

The dog was friendly, she said, but shivered when Carns approached.

“She winced in pain, which led me to believe she had been beaten,” said Carns, who lives in Holyrood.

A dog owner all her life, she said she knew the dog was in trouble.

“It was pitiful,” she said under questioning from Crown prosecutor Sheldon Steeves. “I don’t know how she lived as long as she did,” she said. “The dog was starving, almost dead. … It could barely stand up.”

 

Perry Matthews of Seal Cove, who Carns hired to remove the wrecks, showed up shortly afterwards with his seven-year-old son.

“My young fellow’s heart broke,” Matthews testified. “My son was screeching and bawling when he saw the dog. … Tears were coming down his face.

“He was hunting through the truck to find something for the dog to eat. He found some McDonald’s left over and gave (that) to it.”

Matthews said the dog looked extremely thin and was shaking.

Carns knocked on Whelan’s door, but there was no one home.

She immediately called the humane society.

The complaint was then forwarded to the SPCA.

While waiting for the SPCA, Matthews called the RCMP.

“I couldn’t take it any longer,” he said. “I had to call police. I said, ‘I’ve had enough of this,’ and called 911.”

By the time police showed up, Whelan was back at the house.

Const. Adrian Cox of the RCMP Holyrood detachment told the court that when he went to the house, he immediately saw the Rott­weiler, which looked in bad shape.

“It was very thin,” he said. “Its face was sunken in, (her) hip bones sticking out.”

He said the dog had no collar. The chain around her neck was attached to a wire that was tied around two trees. The chain, however, had gotten caught around one of the trees.

He also saw a light-coloured retriever tethered to the front steps. That dog, he said, was also thin, but didn’t look as bad.

Cox knocked on the door and spoke to Whelan about the dogs. A third dog, a miniature pinscher, was inside the house. It looked healthy, he said.

When Cox asked Whelan about the poor condition of the Rottweiler, he said, Whelan told him that the dog’s weight often fluctuates, depending on the season. He also said the dog had recently been given deworming medication.

He said Whelan told him the light-coloured terrier was a stray he was caring for.

Cox told the court Whelan’s house inside was “filthy” with a strong odour.

Cox called officers at headquarters, who contacted the SPCA.

When SPCA representatives arrived, they seized all three dogs.

“I felt Mr. Whelan was in no position to properly care for animals,” Cox said.

SPCA volunteer Rosaleen O’Flaherty testified that when they took Lady to the St. John’s clinic, the

Rottweiller immediately ate several treats and a bowl of mixed dry and wet dog food.

“She couldn’t get enough to eat,” said O’Flaherty, who added the dog was flea-infested.

Veterinarian Dr. Patricia Ryan — who examined Lady six days after she was taken from Whelan’s home — said the dog was malnourished. She weighed 35 pounds at the time — close to 20 pounds below normal weight for that breed.

She said the normal cause of such weight loss would be inadequate nutrition, low-quality nutrition or disease. Tests ruled out such disease.

“It had lost a whole layer of body fat and even some muscle,” Ryan said.

She said the dog’s teeth were also worn, indicative of an animal that has been chewing on rocks, metal or other hard material.

In cross examination, defence lawyer Candice Summers asked the doctor if feeding Lady dog food, such as Old Roy, would affect her health.

Ryan said that brand is considered to be low-end nutrition. She said that although it isn’t considered the healthiest food, it would keep the dog’s weight up, perhaps leading the dog to become overweight.

She said two weeks after Lady was adopted by a colleague’s client, she had gained seven pounds.

“She’s doing very well,” she said.

When Whelan took the stand, he admitted he noticed the dog had been losing weight, but said he couldn’t afford to get medical attention for her, since he was on social assistance at the time. He said he tried deworming treatment a few times.

He said he just couldn’t understand why she wasn’t gaining weight because he fed her six cups of Old Roy dog food in the morning and six in the evening. He said the dog would seem to get bloated from it.

He said he was “devastated” when the SPCA took Lady, as well as his other two dogs.

Whelan’s  nephew and father both testified Whelan did his best to take care of the dog.

The case will be back in court May 2 for lawyers’ final arguments.

 

rgillingham@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @TelyCourt

 

Organizations: Humane Society, RCMP

Geographic location: Holyrood.A, Seal Cove

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