An Auckland woman has been banned from keeping animals for five years and sentenced to 220 hours of community service over the neglect of five horses in her care – one of whom died of starvation.
Alison Freemantle-Pilkington, 57, of the Auckland suburb of Papakura, was convicted last week in the Manukau District Court over her care of the animals.
Freemantle-Pilkington, who described herself as having had 30 years of experience in owning and handling horses, was ordered to pay $4562 in costs, in addition to her community work and ban.
In July 2010 an SPCA Auckland inspector went to inspect horses in two large paddock at Karaka following a complaint from a neighbour.
The inspector found five horses – Jasper, Ace, Star, Aaron, and Benjamin – looking extremely thin and gauged their body score at 3.5 out of 10 (5 being ideal).
Although the paddocks were large and could have been adequate for five horses, there was very little or no grass growth and the horses had no natural feed available.
The inspector phoned Freemantle-Pilkington, who owned the horses, and instructed her to feed them more supplementary feed.
During an inspection the following week, four of the horses had a body score of 3 out of 10. The fifth, Jasper, scored at 2.5 out of 10 and had signs of diarrhoea. The inspector called a veterinarian to examine the horses.
However, the veterinarian could not get close enough to the horses to examine them as they were unused to being handled.
The inspector arranged to meet Freemantle-Pilkington and the veterinarian the next morning.
The veterinarian examined the horses and the inspector issued orders under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 for the owner to feed the horses twice a day and provide special care for Jasper, including stabling, medicine, and a blanket.
That evening Jasper died from starvation, acute salmonelosis, bronchopneumonia, and an overwhelming parasitic burden. The inspector found Jasper dead near the stables the next day.
The inspector called a veterinarian to conduct a necropsy on Jasper and examine the four remaining horses.
The veterinarian recommended that Ace be euthanised on humane grounds. After attempting and failing to contact Freemantle-Pilkington, the inspector authorised the veterinarian to do so.
The remaining three horses were emaciated, with a body score of 0.5 to 1. They were immediately placed in the care of the SPCA Auckland.
SPCA Auckland executive director Bob Kerridge said: “Two months later, the surviving horses – Star, Aaron, and Benjamin – were thriving and had good body scores.
“The main treatment the Auckland SPCA had provided was proper and sufficient food, although we also treated them for rainscald and dewormed them.
“These horses have now been forfeited to the care of SPCA Auckland and will be put forward for adoption.
“Although this case does not suggest any deliberate or malicious mistreatment, it does represent an extreme case of neglect with tragic outcomes, results which are simply unacceptable.
“It also indicates a remarkable lack of understanding of the basic needs of horses by the owner,” he said.
“Horses are sentient, as are all animals, and accordingly are capable of feeling pain and distress, as these horses undoubtedly did. This is unacceptable and could have been averted if veterinary advice had been sought or the SPCA had been asked to help earlier.
“The sentencing handed down in this case is an appropriate outcome – a lesson has been learned, and a message sent.”
The conviction in the case was obtained through voluntary work undertaken by lawyers Aaron Lloyd and David Tong, from Minter Ellison Rudd Watts.
The work was undertaken on behalf of the Auckland branch of the SPCA as part of the firm’s commitment to pro bono work.
The Auckland SPCA charged Freemantle-Pilkington with ill-treating Jasper and Ace and with failing to provide proper food and veterinary attention to the other three horses. She pleaded not guilty.
Lloyd, assisted by Tong, conducted a six-day trial before Judge Jonathan Moses in January and June 2012.
Judge Moses found Freemantle-Pilkington guilty of all charges in August 2012, but her lawyer indicated she would apply to be discharged without conviction.
Lloyd and Tong successfully opposed the application for discharge without conviction and presented the SPCA’s submissions as to sentence.
Judge Moses indicated that he would have imposed the fine of $23,000 sought, but instead sentenced Freemantle-Pilkington to 220 hours of community work because she could not afford to pay a substantial fine.
SPCA Auckland chief executive Christine Kalin said the charity was pleased with the outcome, saying that such cases would not be able to be prosecuted without such pro bono support.
“We hope that this case sends a clear message to people who insist on owning more animals than they can adequately care for: don’t let it get to this stage.”
Lloyd, who led the prosecution, is a member of the SPCA Auckland Pro Bono Panel, a network of experienced lawyers who have agreed to take animal welfare prosecutions for the Auckland SPCA.
The firm also provides free legal advice to the SPCA on employment and corporate matters.