First Conviction Under Ontario's New Animal Welfare Act

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First Conviction Under Ontario's New Animal Welfare Act

From Windsor Animal Rights

The legislation was finally enacted in response to public revulsion surrounding another dog cruelty case.

News worth celebrating doesn't seem to come very often these days, especially when in regards to our nonhuman brethren, but today marks a very positive rarity, the first conviction under Ontario's recently enacted Provincial Animal Welfare Act.

Two of the three charges against the offender are, legally speaking, new offences: causing distress and permitting distress, which puts less of a burden of proof on SPCA investigators. Under the old act, prosecutors had to establish the abused animal's ownership and then also prove conclusively it was that person who committed the act of abuse - meaning that they were required to prove intent to do or allow harm. The third charge was for failing to comply with the minimal standards of care for animals.

A Windsor male, Orville Kevin Harris, 44, was sentenced for crimes carried out against two redbone coonhounds who were in his care. The charges stem from March 10 of this year when acting on an anonymous tip, an agent with the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals rescued two starving, skeletal dogs who were on the brink of death.

Imprisoned in the backyard of Harris' Montcalm residence, the brothers had been starved and neglected for an undetermined length of time, and were dangerously emaciated and dehydrated. They had no shelter, and only each other's bodies for warmth during the winter.

The conviction yielded a diminutive fine of $1,000 and another $3,163 in restitutions to the HS for medical fees, 2 years of probation but no jail time, and the most important, a lifetime ban on possession of, caring for, or co-habitating with nonhuman animals. A maximum penalty under the new act could have resulted in a mere two years in jail, a $60,000 fine and a lifetime ban on animal ownership.

A law student representing the defendant said Harris had extraneous circumstances happening in his life at the time of the abuse and apparently didn't think to care for his dogs during that period. Justice of the peace Susan Hoffman acknowledged these excuses in her sentence.

I understand that your emotional well-being was affected such that you were unable to care for the dogs. But clearly the court has to send a message that the behaviour cannot be tolerated.

Thanks to the emergency TLC from the incredible people at Windsor-Essex County Humane Society, and help from foster parents, the brothers not only recovered, they have also been adopted out to their new families, albeit separately, but do not be saddened by their separation, the brothers had grown apart as they recovered from their ordeal, and they both have new siblings to live and play with in their new homes. This has been a far greater outcome than they had faced before being rescued.

In a bizarre turn, which thankfully failed miserably, Harris had actually applied for the return of his victims, but the local Humane Society obtained an order allowing it to retain custody until the legal proceedings had concluded. Humane Society staff saw no indication that Harris understood the level of neglect these two dogs have suffered, or recognizes any wrongdoing.

He didn't seem to grasp the seriousness of the dogs' situation. We can't quite figure out how he could let this happen, said Melanie Coulter, executive director of WECHS, adding that, "anyone who has seen the dogs has been shocked."

Veterinarians use a body condition score on a scale of one to nine to rate the general health appearance of dogs and cats, with five considered normal and three or lower given to those appearing seriously underweight. Coulter said Stealth rated a one and Hooch a two. Stealth had been in such a weakened state that he had to wait to undergo treatment for a potentially fatal heartworm infection.

It's certainly not a proud moment that in such a caring community we once more gain notoriety for a case of animal abuse, especially after the pitbull BSL debacle which spread across the province and garnered international condemnation and shame. Yet it is fitting that a Windsor case is the first prosecution under the tougher new law, as part of the push, what spurred Ontario to act, was the "A.K." case. His mutilation prompted calls for tougher animal protection laws in the province.

"A.K." was a six-month-old mixed-breed puppy seized by the SPCA from a West Windsor home in May of 2007 after having his ears brutally sawed off to make him look "more menacing". The case earned national notoriety and A.K.'s "owner" Rony Salman was sentenced to three months in jail after pleading guilty to three counts of animal cruelty under the criminal code. He was also ordered to pay almost $600 in restitution to the Windsor-Essex County Humane Society and banned from owning an animal for only two years.

This case did had a positive impact, having earned national notoriety, it helped speed up enactment of Ontario's new Animal Welfare Act, a measure which, for years, had stiff opposition from the animal exploitation sector as well as as hunters and anglers. "A.K." was adopted and renamed Kasen by his new family. He became the poster-pooch for the issue of animal cruelty nation-wide. The legislation was finally enacted in response to public revulsion surrounding this case.

This isn't the first or worst case of starvation seen in Windsor. In late February of this year, WECHS, acting on a complaint, found two puppies who had been starved to death at the residence of Amanda Armstrong and Mohammad Charara. The only material found in their stomachs was the wood they'd eaten during their struggle to survive.

A very wonderful end to this "tail", especially when the chances of recovery for Stealth had been a "question mark". During their stay at the Humane Society, both Hooch and Stealth had graciously lapped up the loving attention they received. They are the friendliest dogs, very personable.