Stephen and Jane Williams of Jane’s Pet Resort will pay fines of $2000 and $500 respectively after they entered guilty pleas to cruelty and failure to seek vet treatment.
Mr Williams entered the guilty plea at Raymond Terrace Local Court on Thursday to a single charge of committing an act of cruelty over the death of a beagle at their Fullerton Cove property.
In a separate incident the RSPCA had charged Mrs Williams with fail to provide vet treatment to a staffordshire terrier that had sustained a gash to its abdomen.
Magistrate Robert Stone accepted that the couple had been subject to menacing phone calls and death threats via social media in the days immediately before the incidents, namely over the death of the pet greyhound ‘Baron’.
Barrister William Hussey told the magistrate his client, Mr Williams, was very stressed at the time of the incident.
“He was exposed to a hate campaign on social media, namely Facebook,” he said.
“In one instance a person wrote ‘you're so lucky it wasn't my dog that you harmed because I would kidnap you and torture you’.”
The court was told that Mr Williams had been washing the beagle when he became distracted and that normally he would have placed the dog in a holding cage rather than leave it unattended.
Within 60 seconds the dog was said to have hanged to death after it attempted to jump out of the bath.
“[Mr Williams] shouldn’t have to suffer the indignity of a conviction for a momentary lapse of judgement,” Mr Hussey said.
General counsel for the RSPCA Andrew Clachers had asked the magistrate to consider orders that would have prevented Mr and Mrs Williams from operating kennels for two years.
Mr Stone asked why Mrs Williams hadn’t sought veterinary attention for the staffordshire terrier which did later require stitches.
Mr Hussey responded that she was “in a state of fear” after Baron’s death, “as your honour can see, from the Facebook evidence”.
“She’s getting death threats and has [instead] decided to take her children to her parents,” Mr Hussey said.
Mr Stone quickly came to the conclusion both matters were accidents and not an act of cruelty but he did note the need to hold kennel operators to a high standard.
“Mr Williams I accept that these were exceptional circumstances but you are in the business of caring for animals for financial reward,” Mr Stone said.
“This means you need to care for animals in a way that assures their safety.”
Mr Stone noted the maximum available fine was $22,000 before applying the lesser penalty of $2000. He also declined to make orders that would prohibit Mr Williams from running a kennel or his business rearing dogs for military, police and correctional services purposes.
Mr Stone said that Mrs Williams also had a duty of care higher than that of someone looking after a neighbour’s animal for example, in making the $500 fine.
“I understand that things were beginning to get too much [with the death threats] but the priority in this instance should have been the animal,” he said.
Mr and Mrs Williams declined to comment on the court’s findings outside the court.