DUNCAN — “Why didn’t she just pick up the phone and call the SPCA?”
Provincial court Judge Mayland McKimm asked that question Thursday at the sentencing hearing for Melissa Tooshley, a 41-year-old member of the Cowichan Tribes, who pleaded guilty to failing to provide adequate food, water, shelter and care to a dog that died a painful death in February 2018.
Like dozens of protesters attending the animal-abuse trial, McKimm was seeking answers for “the outrageous harm” done to the dog, which was dumped on Tooshley’s stepfather, Anderson Joe, and tethered in Tooshley’s backyard. “All it took was a five-minute phone call to the SPCA to say: ‘Come and rescue this dog.’ Any time,” McKimm said.
Tooshley could have told them she didn’t want the dog and was afraid of the animal, and the SPCA would have been there in an hour, said the judge.
Instead, the dog, later called Teddy by those caring for it at Duncan Animal Hospital, was “neglected to death.”
Although McKimm said he felt a jail sentence was essential, after listening to a joint submission by the Crown and defence, McKimm suspended the passing of sentence and placed Tooshley on 12 months of probation. He also made an order banning her from owning a pet for the rest of her life.
“There is a powerful need to condemn behaviour that brings needless suffering to animals. Canadian society will not tolerate it,” said McKimm, who took the extraordinary step of sealing the photographs of injuries suffered by the dog.
“These images are about as horrific as any the court has the misfortune to see. They are so profoundly disturbing. … There has to be some level of control over their dissemination.”
McKimm noted that in late 2017, someone dropped off an aggressive dog at the residence of Tooshley and Joe, a man of limited cognitive ability. They set up a makeshift shelter and tethered the dog on a 10-metre lead.
At the time, however, Tooshley was in the final stages of a difficult pregnancy with her fourth child. The infant was born on Dec. 30, 2017. Labour and delivery were difficult, as was Tooshley’s recovery.
She suffered from post-partum depression and spent most of her time in bed. She was the sole adult caring for a newborn baby and her 10- and 16-year-old daughters, along with her stepfather, who was spending most of his time at a longhouse.
“She was barely able to provide the basic care necessary for her children and her father. And at the same time, [she] made scant or no meaningful effort to care for the animal who continued to be tethered at the back of the house,” McKimm said. “The animal was so utterly ignored, by the time the SPCA arrived at their home on Feb. 16, the tether was so short and knotted, the dog was unable to lift its head to a standing position. The collar had severed the neck so profoundly, the jugular veins were both severed and the head was swollen to three times the size of the dog’s normal head.”
The SPCA officers testified that the animal was unrecognizable as a dog and the photographs support that, McKimm said. The dog, which had been neglected over a six- to eight-week period, was skin and bones and barely able to stand up. It couldn’t even reach the food Tooshley threw at it from the back porch.
McKimm noted that Tooshley has no criminal record and accepted responsibility for her failure to act. She expressed remorse in a statement to the court, in a pre-sentence report and a Gladue report prepared because of her Indigenous status.
The Gladue report revealed that she was abandoned by her father and she and her siblings suffered from malnutrition because of poverty and lack of food. Tooshley was bullied and fell behind in school because of a hearing issue that was never diagnosed.
“The circumstances are as unique as they are horrific,” said McKimm. “I must accept the joint submission put forward by senior and experienced counsel and recognize she has fully accepted her responsibility.”