Londonderry dog found partially buried alive

The owner of a dog which had to be put down after being discovered partially buried on a Co Londonderry beach could face jail after he was convicted of animal cruelty.

Peter Toland was convicted at the Magistrates Court in Derry on Monday.

His American bull terrier had to be humanely euthanised after it was found partially buried under a large piece of masonry in a country park on the outskirts of the city last March.

Following a contested hearing, Toland was also convicted of three separate charges of failing to take reasonable stops to ensure the welfare of three other dogs.

The animal cruelty conviction carries a maximum sentence of 12 months imprisonment.

The three other convictions each carry a maximum sentence of six months' jail time.

Toland, 29, from the Carnhill area of the city, opted not to give evidence during the hearing before District Judge Ted Magill.

Prosecution witness Shauna Greeney of the Whitehouse Veterinary Clinic said that on March 15, the dog, known as Luna, was brought to the clinic by police after it had been found partially buried and under a stone by a member of the public in Ballyarnett Country Park.

A second vet also examined the female dog and decided the most appropriate option was to euthanise the animal.

Ms Greeney said the dog had a body mass of two out of nine, meaning it was severely emaciated with no muscle mass present. Its canine teeth were broken and its pulse was exposed.

The dog's ears were packed with mud and the animal also had facial fractures which had been caused by blunt force trauma.

She said that such was the extent of Luna's emaciation "you need a prolonged period of time, months, to get to that stage of emaciation".

Reading from the court papers, the District Judge said Luna had a facial haematoma as well as fractures which had been caused by blunt force.

He said the fractures were recent, possibly only hours old, and that the blows to the face had been caused by a wide object.

He said there was no indication that Luna had been used for fighting or baiting.

The court heard that, in his police interview, Toland said he had owned the dog for two years.

He said he'd gone to Donegal on March 15 and when he returned home he noticed Luna was missing.

Toland told the police Luna had "dropped a full litter of pups the previous October" but that he'd never taken the dog to a veterinary clinic nor registered any of his dogs with any clinic.

When the police searched Toland's home they found three other dogs in the enclosed rear garden. There was no water for the dogs, inadequate bedding for them and the yard contained a considerable amount of faeces.

The prosecutor said Toland told the police Luna had never run away before and that he'd searched for the missing dog for one hour after he'd discovered it was missing.

Defence barrister Eoghan Devlin said there was "absolutely no doubt Mr Toland is a terrible owner of animals" but he submitted that the prosecution had failed to prove its case that the defendant had buried the dog alive.

The barrister said the police had failed to properly investigate the incident. They had not looked for CCTV footage nor organised an identity line-up for the member of the public who'd found the dog and who had seen two men at the scene, he contended.

The District Judge said either the dog got out of the back yard and somebody partially buried it or somebody took the dog from the back yard and did it.

"It is appalling and despicable that this animal was found as it was found. To think that somebody could bury the animal alive is just incomprehensible," he said.

"No person with the slightest shred of decency would do that. But somebody did it, either a person or persons unknown did that, or the dog somehow got out for the first time and then somebody did this to the dog.

"This animal was in an appalling state of health. It was emaciated, there was no muscle mass, it had broken canine teeth, puncture wounds and facial fractures that was the result of blunt trauma with a wide object.

"This animal had suffered a prolonged period of suffering, months long, and that is squarely at the door of the defendant.

"He took no steps to have the dog treated, no steps to take it to a vet. He took no steps to deal with a severely emaciated dog, he is guilty."

The District Judge then banned Toland for life from keeping animals.

He said he would sentence Toland, who has 46 other previous criminal convictions, following the preparation of a pre-sentence report on December 11.