R v Way, 2016 ONCJ 514

Members of Toronto police and Toronto Fire Services responded to a 911 call from a concerned member of the public canvassing the neighbourhood with flyers who feared, based on the stench that could be detected outside the residence, that someone had died inside the home. Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) was contacted when they discovered at least 107 cats living in unsuitable conditions and in various states of distress. The conditions that the cats were living in was described as “wall to wall cats; floors, walls and furniture rotting and coated in cat urine, cat fur and cat feces” with a smell that was “literally over-powering. The first officer on the scene thought there might be a dead body inside the house” (para. 2(3)).

The accused immediately surrendered the cats to the OSPCA, who had them examined by a team of veterinarians. The cats were suffering from a multitude of health concerns: dehydration; upper respiratory infections; alopecia; eye infections; chemical scalding from cat urine; and from genetic birth defects, resulting from inbreeding within the population. Unfortunately, all but one of the cats were euthanized.

The accused was charged with animal cruelty under s. 446(1) and s. 445.1(1)(a) of the Criminal Code.

The Crown sought a custodial sentence in the range of four to six months imprisonment to be followed by three years of probation, a DNA “known offender” data banking order and a lifetime prohibition order preventing the accused from owning any pets. The accused asked for a non-custodial disposition and argued against any prohibition on having pets. She defended herself with the position that she had tried her best and could not do any better.

The judge found that although the accused’s standard of care fell well below societal expectations, she was not a bad person. She had fully cooperated with the investigation and had suffered personally in the loss of the cats who she loved and of her professional and personal reputation in losing her teaching contract and the media characterization of her as a “crazy cat lady”.

A conditional discharge with 12 months of probation was ordered, as well as an order to complete 100 hours of community service and a prohibition against having more than two domestic animals in her care and custody at any given time.