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Woman whose dogs mauled cat to death tells St. John's court she doesn't consider her pets predators

Crystal Smith of St. John’s was back in provincial court in St. John’s Wednesday to take in the verdict in her case. She was found guilty of charges under the province's Animal Health and Protection Act, which were laid in connection with an incident last summer, when her dogs escaped and mauled a cat to death.
Crystal Smith. - Rosie Mullaley file photo/The Telegram

Crystal Smith argues the cat didn't have a ‘serious injury,’ even though it died

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

A St. John's woman whose dogs mauled a cat to death last summer took the stand at her own sentencing hearing Tuesday, telling the court she does not consider the cat to have suffered serious wounds and wouldn't classify her dogs as predatory aggressors.

Reading from a report by a local canine behaviour consultant that Smith had submitted to the court, Crown prosecutor Renee Coates noted that dogs who exhibit predatory aggression toward humans generally have a history of at least one similar incident toward other animals.

"So even though your dogs killed a cat, you wouldn't put your dogs in that category?" Coates asked Smith.

"According to the veterinarian report, the cat had one singular puncture wound on its hind leg," Smith replied, though no evidence from a veterinarian had been presented to the court.

"According to what you just read and that (vet) report, they would not fit that criteria."

Coates continued reading from the report, noting "deep wounds on the backs of the hind legs and serious punctures" are typical injuries inflicted by predatory-aggressive dogs.

"It was one puncture wound, which in my opinion would not consist of a serious injury," Smith replied.

"It was one puncture wound, which in my opinion would not consist of a serious injury." — Crystal Smith

Smith, 40, had pleaded not guilty of one count each of unlawfully allowing a companion animal to cause a hazard and failing to keep a dog tethered or penned, after her two dogs — Keiko, an Amstaff-Boston terrier, and Luna, an Amstaff-bulldog — chased a cat in a residential garden on Wishingwell Place last August 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 last month, 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.

On Tuesday, Smith said she had met with a canine behaviour consultant in an effort to do just that. The consultant had requested the dogs undergo a vet exam first and suggested Keiko may need anti-anxiety medication, Smith said.

Coates pointed out the meeting with the consultant had taken place just last Friday.

The report from the consultant quoted a price of $800 a month minimum for the training, which Smith said she was prepared to pay. She said she and her daughter were also attempting to train the dogs themselves, acknowledging her dog-training experience came from her own knowledge and what she had learned from the internet.

Smith's daughter also took the stand, saying Keiko was actually her dog. When she moved in with her boyfriend three weeks ago, she had taken Keiko with her and had been working on training her since then. Keiko now responds to more verbal commands, the 19-year-old said, but displays signs of anxiety around vehicles and cars.

The teenager told the court Keiko has not shown any aggression toward other animals or people since being in her care, including around a two-year-old child who visits her home regularly.

“What assurance can you give the court that this won't happen again?" Coates asked the young woman.

"Since we've known of this incident, we've been keeping an eye on (the dogs), taking proper steps to train them. They are never left unsupervised. Keiko is always by my side, and if I'm not home, my boyfriend is with her," the woman replied.

Marshall decided to postpone her sentencing decision, saying she wanted to determine if there had indeed been a report from a vet about the cat's injuries. She also asked for a follow-up from the behaviour consultant, preferably in person, and requested more information on any medication potentially prescribed to the dogs.

Smith's case will be back before the court July 25. In the meantime, Marshall said she was concerned for any children who might come near the dogs, asking Smith and her daughter to keep the pets away from children until the case is concluded.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury


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