A Halifax man has been fined $1,000 and prohibited from owning animals for three years after pleading guilty to causing a dog to be in distress.
Adam DeCoste, 31, was sentenced on the Animal Protection Act charge last week in Halifax provincial court.
“This case is very important for animal welfare law, because it is the first case in Nova Scotia (where) we have secured a conviction for causing pain, suffering and undue anxiety to an animal,” Jo-Anne Landsburg, chief inspector with the Nova Scotia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said in a news release Monday.
“In animal welfare enforcement, it is sometimes difficult to prove physical pain as well as anxiety. In this case, we were able to obtain a written report from an animal behaviour and animal welfare scientist from British Columbia. This expert witness was able to give scientific evidence that the dog, Sophie, suffered psychologically as a result of the abuse.”
The Crown’s main pieces of evidence were surveillance video that captured the abuse in the lobby of DeCoste’s apartment building last October and the opinion from the animal behaviour expert.
The 50-second video – described by prosecutor Janie Kidd as shocking – shows DeCoste striking the five-year-old husky a dozen times with the end of its leash after it caused him to drop a cup of coffee he was carrying into the building Oct. 8.
The footage only came to light after the building manager checked the video to see who had spilled the coffee without cleaning it up or reporting it as a safety hazard.
Nine days later, the video was turned over to the SPCA, which launched an investigation.
Two SPCA officers visited DeCoste’s girlfriend’s apartment. The dog was in good shape but was skittish. Sophie was observed to be timid with a female SPCA officer and terrified of a male officer.
The SPCA officers seized the animal because DeCoste was living in the same apartment. A veterinarian examined the dog the next day and found no physical injuries.
On Oct. 19, DeCoste gave the SPCA a statement in which he admitted hitting Sophie.
The SPCA provided a copy of the video to Rebecca Ledger, an animal behaviour and welfare consultant in Vancouver, and requested her opinion on the effects of the abuse on the dog.
WARNING: This video shows animal abuse and could be extremely upsetting
“It is well established in the scientific literature that suffering refers to negative psychological states,” Ledger said in an Oct. 24 letter to the SPCA. “The acts of jerking and striking Sophie as observed in this video would cause her to suffer from anxiety, fear, physical discomfort and pain.
“Furthermore, Sophie’s behaviour during the incident (flinching, cowering, tensing, tail down, withdrawal, ears back, raised paw, lip licking, avoiding eye contact) indicates that she is suffering from anxiety, fear, physical discomfort and fear.”
Ledger said it was “highly likely” that subsequent interactions with the same handler or in that lobby or while on that leash would cause the dog further anxiety and fear.
“For these reasons, it would be in the best interests of Sophie’s long-term emotional health to avoid being in contact with this handler,” the expert wrote.
DeCoste’s girlfriend unsuccessfully appealed the seizure before the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board. The SPCA said the dog was adopted out and is doing well.
In an interview with The Chronicle Herald, Kidd said the abuse consisted of “a repeated violent act against a vulnerable animal.”
Kidd said a short, sharp jail sentence would also have been appropriate for DeCoste, but she agreed to recommend the fine in recognition of the “significant mitigation” of the guilty plea.
“There are not a lot of jail sentences that people have gotten under the Animal Protection Act,” she said.
“It’s a high fine, and it’s a stiffer penalty than we see in many cases.”
Defence lawyer Billy Sparks told the court his client was remorseful and apologetic and has regretted the incident since the day it happened.