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Man starved horse, but hanging humane: judge

Apr 01 2012

David Whiffin didn't want to spend money to care for an old horse.

On Friday, he was fined $7,500 after being convicted of cruelty to an animal for failing to provide enough food to 27-year-old Jalupae in June and July 2009. Whiffin is also prohibited from owning animals or birds for five years and has been ordered to pay $297.68 to veterinarian Dr. Geoff Gaunt.

His co-accused Clayton Cunningham, also convicted of causing unnecessary pain and suffering to an animal by allowing Jalupae to starve during those two months, has been placed on probation for 12 months and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service. Cunningham is also prohibited from owning any animals or birds for five years.

Originally, Whiffin was also charged with killing his horse when he hanged it using an excavator.

Victoria provincial court Judge Sue Wishart found he killed the animal humanely and acquitted him on that charge.

On Friday, Wishart said she was concerned Whiffin and Cunningham had not learned from this experience. Before she imposed sentence, Whiffin stood and said he did not realize he was responsible for the horse. He also complained he had not been given a chance to speak and had been treated unfairly.

"My hope is that by imposing these sentences on Mr. Cunningham and Mr. Whiffin, they will understand if you own an animal, or are the caretaker of an animal, you are obligated by law to provide appropriate care to that animal," said Wishart.

"If you are unable, for any reason, to provide appropriate care for the animal, surrender it to the SPCA, give it to someone else or, as owner, have it euthanized. What you can't do, is let the animal suffer, as occurred here."

Outside court, Jalupae's original owner, Kathy Mercer, said she was disappointed Whiffin would not go to jail.

"This wasn't the outcome we had hoped for today. But at least there's a finality to it and he will pay. It will be a financial burden to him, apparently, and he's banned from owning animals for a period of time. That's on the positive," Mercer said.

Wishart found Jalupae was old and his teeth were beyond repair. Both Cunningham and Whiffin were aware that Jalupae could not eat hay or long grass and did nothing about it.

"Their failure to provide adequate food sparked unnecessary suffering for Jalupae," Wishart said.

"It was obvious to anyone who watched Jalupae eat for even a few minutes that he was hungry but couldn't chew hay or long grass fine enough to swallow it."

Wishart found it an aggravating factor that Cunningham and Whiffin were repeatedly told about the problem and did nothing about it. She also found it aggravating that Whiffin said he "didn't want to put money into an old horse."

"The main objective of sentencing in this case is to ensure they both understand there are consequences for that kind of conduct," Wishart said.

The mitigating factor was that neither man set out to harm Jalupae. Whiffin's conduct was closer to neglect. He was also generally co-operative with the SPCA.

Cunningham was genuinely fond of Jalupae, but had no idea how to care for a horse, Wishart said.

"He demonstrated this by the fact he tried to save Jalupae's life by making him walk nine kilometres along the road to another property and walked him back the next day."

During his community service hours, Cunningham can pay back the community and reflect on what happened to Jalupae, said the judge.

After the sentencing, Whiffin said he was sorry the horse didn't get a wet diet sooner. "If I'd known, I would have done it."

Whiffin is to pay restitution to the vet by April 30 and his $7,500 fine by Sept. 30.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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