Judge to make a decision in the case of Crystal Smith later this month
A St. John’s woman whose dogs mauled a cat to death last summer is asking the court not to take her animals away from her, but to give her a $500 fine instead.
The Crown said on Friday it doesn’t believe a fine is appropriate, and wants the court to order Crystal Smith to surrender her two dogs to the SPCA instead.
“A fine would essentially be putting a price on the death of a family pet,” prosecutor Renee Coates said in provincial court in St. John’s Friday, also arguing for Smith to be banned from owning animals for two years.
Smith, 40, was convicted earlier this summer of unlawfully allowing a companion animal to cause a hazard and failing to keep a dog tethered or penned. Her two dogs — Keiko, an Amstaff-Boston terrier, and Luna, an Amstaff-bulldog — chased a cat in a residential garden on Wishingwell Place in August 2018 and mauled it to death, leaving blood on the dogs’ faces and paws.
Sentences for the charges, which are liability related only and not criminal, range from a fine to an order for the animals to be destroyed.
The cat’s owner testified at Smith’s trial, saying she had picked up her pet’s body from the city’s Humane Services division, noticing abrasions and blood on its body. One of the police officers who had responded to the call told the court he saw blood and a puncture wound on the cat’s hind leg.
Smith, who told the court during her trial she owns four dogs, testified that on the morning of Aug. 4, 2018, she took two of them, Keiko and Luna, to a public tennis court on Stamps Lane, where she shut the gate and let them off their leashes to run around. She said she had taken the dogs there before to roam freely without incident, since it is enclosed with a chain-link fence.
However, she said that when she pulled out her cellphone to check a text message and looked up moments later, the dogs were gone. She then noticed a hole in the fence large enough to allow the dogs to escape. She said she panicked and furiously checked the area, calling out to her pets, and phoned a friend to come help, called Humane Services and made a public Facebook post about the missing dogs. Staff from Humane Services called Smith back to tell her the dogs had been located on Wishingwell Place, where they had gotten hold of a cat.
A neighbourhood resident testified he saw the dogs maul the cat in his backyard, and called the RNC.
Once Smith arrived, it took her and several others 27 minutes to corral the dogs and get them in a car, the court heard.
Judge Lori Marshall found Smith guilty of the two charges, saying Smith didn’t do enough to prevent the incident and should never have let her dogs roam freely in the public tennis courts.
Marshall pointed out that Smith had expressed grave concern about the dogs’ behaviour once loose and in sentencing, and said to her, “You obviously recognized your dogs were capable of inflicting great harm.” Marshall told Smith she should have put her dogs in obedience training, given the risk.
Dog trainer Rose Browne took the stand at Smith’s sentencing hearing Friday, explaining she had completed eight training sessions with the two dogs, who have been making some progress. She said Smith and her daughter, who cares for one of the dogs, had shown a commitment to continuing with training.
“Ms. Smith is clearly a responsible dog owner,” said defence lawyer Alexandra Kindervater. “She realizes what happened, what the error was, and won’t let it happen again.
Smith is prepared to pay a fine and abide by an order to continue with training, Kindervater said, noting there was no assurance that the dogs wouldn’t be destroyed if they were turned over to the SPCA.
Coates pointed out Smith’s commitment to the dogs’ training only began after she was convicted. Until that point, she had not sought any training for the dogs’ behaviour, Coates said.
“The actions of the owner in the circumstances are reactive to You Honour’s decision and not proactive. The Crown would submit if the owner was committed to training, this training should have begun immediately after the incident occurred, regardless of the outcome ot trial later. As I out it to the trainer today, what would have been the difference after one year of training? She said it could have been very different and quite hopeful.”
Coates noted the cat had been a well-loved pet, that bystanders had testified to being horrified by the dogs’ attack on the cat, and Smith was unable to control her dogs when they were located and police were on scene, since they had tried to chase another cat.
“The cat could have been, the Crown would submit, a baby, a small child or even an adult,” Coates said.
Marshall will render her sentencing decision Sept. 16.