A Toronto man who tortured his girlfriend's dogs so badly that one of them died has been handed the harshest sentence for animal abuse under Canada's animal welfare regulations since they were changed in 2008.
Christopher Michael Munroe was sentenced to a year in jail earlier this month when he was found guilty of willfully abusing two Boston-terrier-type dogs.
Six-year-old Abbey died at the hands of Mr. Munroe, while four-year-old Zoe managed to survive. Their bones were broken during six to eight weeks of repeated beatings, according to the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which investigated the case and made the outcome public on Tuesday.
Mr. Munroe's girlfriend had spent more than $6,000 in veterinary bills, completely unaware that her live-in boyfriend was causing their pain, the OSPCA said.
Observers say the conviction will change how animal-abuse crimes are dealt with in Ontario, sending more offenders to jail for longer sentences and potentially barring them from being near animals for greater periods of time.
Justice Fergus O'Donnell's decision on April 15 will help guide the outcome of other cases, says Connie Mallory, acting chief inspector for the OSPCA.
"Judges will certainly reflect on that sentence and my hope is they will hand down similar sentences based on the crime that has happened," she said.
Mr. Munroe, who had pleaded not guilty to the charges, will also do 150 hours of community service, pay about $13,000 in vet bills to the victim and be banned from owning, having custody of or living in the same place as an animal for 25 years.
Before the Criminal Code was changed to crack down on animal abusers, the maximum jail term was six months, the maximum fine was $200 and the longest ban from owning or living with an animal was two years.
That was still the case in early 2008, before the OSPCA first learned about Abbey and Zoe from a licensed veterinarian. On June 23, 2008, after running numerous tests on the dogs, the vet told the OSPCA that the animals had been subjected to many "brutal" beatings in the span of six to eight weeks.
One of these tests was a necropsy on Abbey, who died from injuries suffered during the attacks. A University of Guelph pathologist found Abbey had 14 broken ribs, a fractured skull, two detached retinas, severe ulcerations on her feet and chemical and electrical burns on her vagina and anus.
Zoe suffered injuries from heavy beatings, mainly to her abdomen and ribs, which swelled so badly that her sore skin hung low beneath her carriage.
It was horrifying, said Ms. Mallory, but sadly not the worst the OSPCA has dealt with. "We have seen these kind of situations in the past," she said. "But what we haven't seen is a sentence that fits the crime in the past, so we're very pleased about that."
She hopes that this conviction will not only deter abusers from unleashing attacks on animals, but also urge other people to come forward with reports of violence, knowing there are serious consequences attached.
As amended, the Criminal Code puts caps on convictions for animal abuse. Anyone found guilty of causing unnecessary suffering to animals can be imprisoned for no more than five years.