Dog owners broke into applause as Emma Paulsen was led from a Surrey courtroom in handcuffs Wednesday, sentenced to six months in prison.
Along with prison time and two years probation, the judge imposed a 10-year ban on the disgraced former dog walker owning any pets, and a lifetime ban on her caring for the animals of others professionally.
In May of 2013, Paulsen, a Delta resident, tearfully told her clients, reporters, and police that six dogs had vanished from the back of her truck at the Brookswood off-leash dog park.
Paulsen claimed that she had been playing with the dogs there for several hours, then put them in the truck and went to the washroom. When she returned, the truckâ€™s canopy was open and the dogs were gone.
Her story unravelled in less than a week. Paulsen admitted to a missing pet investigator and to RCMP that the dogs had died in the back of her truck after she left them unattended for about 40 minutes while she went shopping at a Richmond Costco.
She had panicked, dumped the dogsâ€™ bodies in an Abbotsford ditch, and concocted the story about the alleged theft.
On Wednesday, Judge James Jardine ruled that Paulsen was deserving of prison time.
â€œThis is a unique set of circumstances,â€ Jardine said in his ruling.
He acknowledged that Paulsen did not mean to kill any of the dogs â€“ one of the six, Salty, was her own pet â€“ but she had previously been seen leaving the dogs in the back of her truck, and had been warned by several people. He noted that she had been in emotional turmoil prior to the incident.
Jardine called her actions distracted, thoughtless negligence, and â€œvery self-centered.â€
â€œHer post-offence conduct was motivated by fear, shame, and panic,â€ he said.
Guilt should have caused her to check her behaviour, but instead she repeated her story many times over the following days, Jardine noted, even participating in searches for the dogs and helping to hire the pet investigators who would poke holes in her story.
Paulsen had pleaded guilty to two charges, one under the provincial Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, and the Criminal Code offence of public mischief for the false report.
Crown counsel Jim MacAulay had called for three to six months on each charge, plus a fine of $5,000 to $10,000, and lengthy bans on owning or caring for animals.
Paulsenâ€™s lawyer had called for a conditional sentence, possibly including house arrest or prison time served on weekends. Jardine ruled that a conditional sentence was not appropriate.
There will be no fine, as Paulsen is $60,000 in debt and was earning $10.25 an hour at her current job, Jardine noted.
The judge seemed quite affected by the victim impact statements submitted by the dog owners as Exhibit Four.
â€œExhibit Four was difficult to read,â€ said Jardine.
The central them was a loss of a family member, the sense of emptiness the families felt after they lost their dogs.
After Jardine announced the sentence, dog owners sitting in the front ranks of the gallery applauded. â€œYouâ€™re the best judge!â€ one shouted.
â€œIâ€™m happy, thatâ€™s what we wanted,â€ Amber Williams said outside the courtroom. Since her dog Mia died, she has found it very difficult to trust anyone else with her animals, she said.
â€œWeâ€™re all a little surprised and relieved,â€ said Jennifer Myers, the owner of Buddy. They had feared that Paulsen would get no jail time or house arrest only.
Paul Grant said this is the start of closure for his family.
â€œMy wife and I, we donâ€™t have children, Oscar was our boy,â€ he said of his pet.
The owners said they hoped the sentence will send a message.