Finally. It’s been a long road to a sentence in an animal cruelty case that started in May of 2018. At least that is when the investigation started into the owners of SpeedSport Stables, David, Victoria and Jason Small. For the horses involved, according to the veterinarians who assessed the horses for the court and the OSPCA, it started months earlier. Both stated that the horses’ condition was so poor that they had clearly been in a chronic, ongoing state of starvation and lack of care. Equine veterinarian Oscar Calvete was on scene at the start and attended every court date. He called it the worst case of animal neglect he’s seen in his 36-year career.
To recap, in August of 2017, the Small family rented the farm property from owner Michael Cheung (who did not live there). By April 2018 they were falling behind in rent and Cheung contacted police who told him to lock the farm gates so that the delinquent renters could not enter and remove property. Unfortunately, this meant that no one was caring for the animals. The OSPCA had also been called, but declined to remove them at that time, so Cheung contacted a nearby racing farm, Adena Springs, and his neighbours for help and by mid-May the 14 emaciated horses, a pig and four chickens on the farm were being removed. As well as 7 dead horses. Later, a neighbor, Louise Leifer, discovered a cache of more buried horses, some long decomposed.
Fast forward through multiple court appearances, legal representation changes (which delayed things further), the Smalls finally pled guilty and “expressed remorse” on April 18, 2019, “saving the province multiple trial days,” according to David Small’s lawyer, Calvin Barry. After reviewing the case law, the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines, a Community Impact Statement and veterinarian and OSPCA testimony, the judge imposed the following on all three defendants:
1. A lifetime ban on owning any livestock or having any care or control of any livestock.
2. While not banned from pet ownership, they may not, between them, own more than a single cat or dog.
3. A two-year probation order including the following conditions: they must abstain from any communication or contact with Michael Cheung and may not communicate or be found anywhere on the property of Woodbine Racetrack.
4. Each was fined $1,000 with one year to pay (less than the $5,000 requested by the Crown, but as the judge pointed out, none of the Smalls had any income so were unlikely to be able to pay that amount)
5. A 45-day jail sentence starting July 19, with the probation period to commence upon release.
While the group of horse lovers and neighbours present were less than pleased with what they viewed as a light sentence, as Rae Ierullo of Forever Thyme Sanctuary, who assisted in rehoming the horses, started a Change.org petition and attended every hearing stated, “We wanted this case to be a pivotal change in how seriously animal cruelty cases are regarded. Well, we got a small pivot – about 45 degrees. This sentence will now be in the case law for future cases.” Hopefully, that will be enough of a legacy for the horses that suffered.