The owner of a West Auckland doggy daycare has been disqualified from working with animals for five years after a much-loved pet died at her facility and led to the first SPCA prosecution of its kind.
Wilson, a 17-month-old huntaway-doberman cross, was found dead with several bite wounds at Valley Dog Daycare in May 2017.
Valley Dog Daycare owner Trudi Jan Hewett was later charged over Wilson's death and was today sentenced in the Waitākere District Court.
The 61-year-old, who operated the Henderson Valley centre for about 10 years, faced two charges relating to the ill-treatment of animals under the Animal Welfare Act.
A charge of recklessly ill-treating an animal was withdrawn today, leaving the single charge of ill-treating an animal for sentencing by Judge Noel Sainsbury.
Wilson had been left to roam with some 13 dogs in one of six paddocks at Hewett's 4.4ha property, the court heard.
When Wilson's owner arrived just before 6pm, however, their pet could not be found.
Hewett told them she didn't know where he was and had not seen him for about six hours.
A short time later, Wilson was found dead and partially submerged in a pond with several bite wounds.
Further details about Wilson's death have been suppressed to protect the identities of other dogs at the daycare.
A veterinarian assessment on Wilson's body found puncture marks and abrasions, while his throat area was also bruised and inflamed.
The vet said the attack would have been a very painful and distressing way for Wilson to die.
Prosecutor Olivia Klaassen said the SPCA had never prosecuted someone operating a pet daycare centre before under the Animal Welfare Act.
She said pet owners had a reasonable expectation to believe their animals would be safe at Valley Dog Daycare or at any similar centre.
But because the industry remained unregulated, Klaassen said, owners placed a "blind faith" in those who cared for their animals.
She sought a court order to ban Hewett from operating a future commercial enterprise involving animals, despite Hewett indicating she did not wish to do so.
Defence lawyer Dale Dufty said a large part of his client's life has been devoted to the care of animals.
He said Wilson's death had affected her emotionally but also financially after she closed down her daycare facility.
Hewett now worked as a truck driver, the court heard.
Wilson's tearful owner Bridget Chung was also in court today for the sentencing.
Shortly after her dog's death, she told the Herald she was devastated.
"We want to ensure that no other animal entrusted to a daycare facility has to endure what Wilson did," Chung said.
Judge Sainsbury said while Hewett's actions may not have been cruel, she "didn't look after this dog as he deserved to be looked after".
He said it was "utterly clear" there had been a profound impact on Wilson's owners who had built a deep bond with her dog.
"People entrust [to pet daycare operators] their animals, who are precious to them," the judge said.
"It is important where profit is a motive that care is not compromised."
Hewett had no prior history of neglecting animals, which "makes this case just so bewildering", Judge Sainsbury said.
He disqualified Hewett for five years from doing any dog minding or walking, or any other commercial venture or temporary care of animals.
"The actions that led to this harm, to my mind, indicates a failure to appreciate the dangers that related to these animals and I see that transferable to other animals," Judge Sainsbury said.
Hewett will be able to keep her own two dogs and two horses.
She must further complete 40 hours of community work and pay $282 in court costs after already paying a reparation sum of $6951.
A further $506 was to be paid to the SPCA.
Following Wilson's death an Auckland Council investigation ensued while the dog's owners, alongside the SPCA, called for industry regulation.
SPCA inspectors also executed a search warrant at Hewett's property.
Records obtained by the SPCA showed there were several other incidents where dogs were injured while under her care – some required serious veterinary care.
The records also showed evidence Hewett had previously rejected dogs from attending her daycare for showing signs of aggression.
"These records showed that two dogs at the daycare on the day Wilson died had been previously banned from another facility for showing aggressive behaviour," the SPCA said in a statement.
The SPCA inspector's investigation further raised queries on Hewett's level of supervision of the dogs, and the frequency of dog head counts.
Several SPCA inspection officers were in court for today's sentencing.
The case also sparked the SPCA to remind people to be careful about picking facilities.
While pet daycare facilities were unregulated, SPCA Auckland chief executive Andrea Midgen said operators must still comply with the Animal Welfare Act.
"We would like to see further regulations in all businesses that care for animals to ensure the animal welfare needs are always met," she said.
Doggy daycare was a good option for dog owners who worked away from home, but Midgen added owners should choose the facility carefully.
"Ask the staff questions about if the dogs are continually supervised during the day, what are the emergency response protocols, staffing numbers and if they have relevant animal welfare or animal behaviour qualifications, and visit the premises to see where they will be during the day," she said.
"It's important to note too that not all dogs are suited to a doggy daycare environment, so taking your dog for a trial day to see how they cope is essential."
After Hewett's sentencing, Midgen sympathised with Wilson's owners, who "lost their beloved family member in a truly awful way."
"They trusted this facility to care for Wilson and he should have been safe and well looked after there," she said.
"If animals are in your care, it is your responsibility to ensure all their needs are met. As a doggy daycare facility, owners expect you to ensure their dogs are safe, happy and healthy and you must take this responsibility seriously."
Midgen also encouraged other pet owners to research facilities and services before using them.
"Good facilities for dogs, for example, will require a behaviour assessment for all dogs, low dog to human ratios, compatible play groups, qualified staff, and dogs must never be left unsupervised," she said.