Nfld. & Labrador

8-month jail term for starving pit bull to death

John Corcoran, 33, requested house arrest for animal cruelty but Judge James Walsh said that sentence would be inappropriate.

Judge James Walsh said what John Corcoran did amounted to torture

John Corcoran is brought into court for his sentencing Tuesday. (Glenn Payette/CBC)

A man convicted of animal cruelty for allowing his pit bull to starve to death in 2015 has been sentenced to eight months in prison.

John Corcoran, 33, had originally requested house arrest.

His lawyer, Rhona Buchan, had recommended that her client get three to four months in prison for the cruelty charge, and two to three months for other charges he was facing.

But Judge James Walsh said the eight months in prison was appropriate for Corcoran given that he already has a conviction for animal abuse. 

Walsh said the longer sentence was necessary to deter Cocoran from doing it again. 

Dog's treatment amounted to torture: judge

"It would be difficult to conceive a set of facts worse than this case," said Walsh, in handing down his sentence on Tuesday. He said what Corcoran did amounted to torture.

At a sentencing hearing in January, the province's chief veterinarian, Dr. Laura Rogers, cried on the stand as she described the state of the dog's body and how it would have suffered.

Judge James Walsh said the lengthy prison sentence for Corcoran was appropriate given this was his second conviction for animal cruelty. Glenn Payette/CBC

Members of an animal rights groups called Rescue NL were in court Tuesday for the sentencing.

"I think the laws in Newfoundland are definitely behind compared to the rest of Canada," said group founder Heather Ballard. "Animal cruelty doesn't get reported enough as it is. When it is reported, often it is not investigated. And if it is, there are no charges a lot of times.

"So, for me, this was such a severe case, one of the worse cases I've ever read anywhere. I just wanted to come and show my support for Diamond."

Diamond was the name of Corcoran's two-year-old pit bull that he let starve to death, likely over a period of several months. 

Maggie Brown-Bury says she hopes the sentence is a sign there will be more consequences for animal cruelty in the future. (CBC)

He then placed the dog's emaciated body in a suitcase, which was later discovered by a worker with Newfoundland and Labrador Housing in a house Corcoran had been living in.

Sentence reaction

"I thought the sentence was, of course, not long enough," said Ballard, "but considering the past sentences here in Newfoundland, I think eight months is very good."

"I was very proud that the judge said he cannot reside with animals or ever own animals again. I think a ban is very important. A lot of people who get charged with animal cruelty never get banned for life, and really they should be."

The founder of Rescue NL, Heather Ballard, says she is pleased with the eight-month sentence. (Glenn Payette/CBC)

Veterinarian Maggie Brown-Bury also agreed with that assessment

"If you look at it as an isolated incident, it doesn't seem like a lot of time for having starved a living creature to death," she said.

"But I've seen so many cases of animals not being treated properly where nothing happens. So from a sort of more historical perspective it feels like a step in the right direction because he has been convicted and he will be serving time."

She hopes the high visibility of the case will encourage bystanders to report animal abuse when they see it. 

"It is against the law in Newfoundland. You can call someone and something could be done," said Brown-Bury.

Public reaction

Ballard wasn't surprised by the attention the case has received.

"People love their animals. And the fact that someone can watch a dog suffer day after day — I think people are just so shocked."

"Why someone would do it?" she asks. "There's just no reason."

Ballard believes the sentence will serve as a deterrent.

"I think people will definitely think twice."

Along with animal cruelty, Corcoran's sentence includes time for failing to show up for court in early May to be sentenced on that charge and others.

Those others include possession of stolen property, and breaches of court orders.

Walsh also placed Corcoran on probation for 18 months, as well as the lifetime prohibition on pet ownership. 

The sentence was in line with what the Crown wanted.


Glenn Payette


A veteran journalist with more than 30 years' experience, Glenn Payette is a videojournalist with CBC News in St. John's.

With files from Debbie Cooper