SINGAPORE: A dog trainer was on Wednesday (Jun 1) fined S$8,000 for leaving two French bulldogs in her car boot for one-and-a-half hours, causing their deaths from heat stress.
Sabrina Sim Xin Huey, 30, was also banned from running any animal-related business for a period of six months.
She has filed an appeal against the ban, which will not come into effect until the appeal is decided.
District Judge Carol Ling said she did not disagree with the defence that "forgetting is human error". But "the fact is, outcomes matter", she said.
"Even if the accused was lacking in intent, the severity of harm ... caused by the accused's actions was high and cannot be downplayed," said the judge.
The two dogs, named Chocoby and Hunniby, were imported by their owner from Australia to Singapore.
Sim, who has been a dog trainer since 2014, was engaged to train them. The arrangement involved the dogs staying with her during the entire training period.
On Aug 25, 2020, Sim finished a training session, placed the two dogs in the boot of her hatchback and drove home.
She reached home at about 2.30pm and parked, turning off the engine and air-conditioning. The windows were wound up and the car was parked in an unsheltered spot in the open-air car park.
As Sim exited the car, she was distracted by a social media post and forgot to let the bulldogs out of the car.
She closed the car door, leaving both dogs in her car boot, and went up to her apartment.
At 4pm, about one-and-a-half hours later, Sim realised she had left the dogs in the boot. She immediately ran to the car and found both dogs unresponsive.
She took them to a nearby veterinary clinic, but they were both dead by the time they arrived.
A post-mortem examination found that Chocoby had been in a stressful state prior to its death with increased turnover of red blood cells.
Sim pleaded guilty in May to one charge of failing to take reasonable steps to ensure that Chocoby was not confined in a manner that subjected it to unnecessary pain and suffering.
Another similar charge involving Hunniby was considered for sentencing.
National Parks Board prosecutor Andy Dinesh previously told the court that there was a need to maintain high industry standards for accredited dog trainers.
As a professional dog trainer, Sim could have adopted a standard operating procedure to check her parked car before leaving, he said.
He added that it was important to deter such conduct among pet owners as Singapore is a tropical country with high vehicle ownership.
Defence lawyer Clement Julien Tan previously argued that since the offence, Sim had gone on to train more than 40 dogs without incident, receiving positive reviews for her work.
Pet owners continued to seek Sim out and place their trust in her even though they were aware of the incident, Mr Tan argued.
He also highlighted that dog training was her livelihood and that she was supporting her elderly parents on her income.
In sentencing, Judge Ling noted that this was Sim's first brush with the law, and that there was no evidence of recklessness or risk-taking on her part.
Sim's conduct showed that she was genuinely sorry for what had happened, and she took steps to compensate the dogs' owner in a confidential settlement, said the judge.
Judge Ling said that while this meant a jail term was not warranted, a ban was still necessary to meet the objective of deterring other potential offenders.
As an accredited dog trainer, the duty of care expected of Sim was higher than that of a regular person in charge of a dog, said the judge.
The sentence underscored the greater responsibility borne by animal-related businesses to provide care to animals, she added.
The punishment for failing to take reasonable steps to ensure that an animal is not confined in a manner that subjects it to unnecessary pain and suffering is jail for up to two years, a fine of up to S$40,000 or both.