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3 family members sentenced to 45 days in jail for cruelty to horses

Three members of a family that pleaded guilty to permitting an animal to be in distress were sentenced on Tuesday to 45 days in jail.

Victoria, David, and Jason Small had pleaded guilty to permitting an animal to be in distress

Jason Small, far left with sunglasses, his mother Victoria Small, middle with brimmed hat, and her husband David Small, right in pink shirt, have been sentenced to 45 days in jail for permitting an animal to be in distress. (Makda Ghebreslassie/CBC)

Three members of one family have been sentenced to 45 days in jail for permitting an animal to be in distress.

Victoria Small, her husband David, and their son Jason were sentenced on Tuesday in a Newmarket, Ont., courtroom after each pleaded guilty in March to one animal cruelty charge of permitting an animal to be in distress.

They have been ordered to turn themselves in to court on July 19 to begin serving their sentences.

Justice of the Peace E. Linda DeBartolo fined the Smalls $1,000 each and gave them one year to pay.

DeBartolo also banned the Smalls for life from ever owning, caring for or controlling livestock. They are allowed to have one dog and one cat at any one given time that are deemed as pets. Each has also been given two years' probation.

As part of their probation conditions, the Smalls cannot be involved with Woodbine Racetrack, where David and Victoria Small allegedly said some of the thoroughbreds would eventually begin racing. 

Case involved deaths, mistreatment of horses

The Smalls were originally charged with a number of animal cruelty offences after an investigation by the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) in May 2018. The investigation involved the treatment of horses at a rented rural property in Whitchurch-Stouffville, Ont., north of Toronto. 

In May 2018, an OSPCA officer discovered emaciated horses on a rural property in Whitchurch-Stouffville, Ont. The horses were described to be in 'thin body condition, with ribs, hips and spine easily visible.' (Oscar Calvete)

Under the OSPCA Act, the three could have each faced a maximum penalty of two years in prison, a $60,000 fine and a lifetime ban from owning an animal.

Speedsport Stables, a family-run horse boarding business owned by the Smalls, had been renting a 10-acre farm and barnyard where the abuse occurred.

According to Ontario corporation records, Speedsport Stables, which started in 2016, is owned by Victoria "Vicki" Small. But its clients say the horse boarding company was a family business run by four members: Victoria Small, her husband David, and their two sons, Jason and Michael. 

According to an agreed statement of facts, the case involved the deaths of two horses and mistreatment of 14 others and a pony. The remains of 13 other horses were found on the property, but a vet could not determine exactly when the animals died. 

Michael Cheung, the owner of the property, walked out of the courtroom on Tuesday before the judge finished reading the sentence.

"I feel very disgusted in our system. It teaches me in Ontario you can get away with anything," Cheung told CBC Toronto on Tuesday. 

Michael Cheung, the owner of the property, walked out of the courtroom on Tuesday before the judge finished reading the sentence. 'I feel very disgusted in our system. It teaches me in Ontario you can get away with anything,' he said. (Makda Ghebreslassie/CBC)

Cheung said Ontario's animal cruelty laws need to be tightened to provide better protection for livestock. He said he thinks the sentence of 45 days in jail is a "walk in the park" and he wondered aloud who is going to enforce the lifetime ban on the Smalls.

"There's no justice," he added.

Cheung started renting his 10-acre farmland to Speedsport Stables around the same time he purchased stakes in three yearlings that he later claimed Speedsport didn't own.

"They claimed they would train them for one year and they would make it into Woodbine Racetrack the following year, when they're two years old," he alleged to CBC News last year.

"They were saying that if your horses make it to the race, doesn't matter if they win or lose, there is supposed to be a lot of purses and prizes from Woodbine and OLG."

OSPCA investigated after neighbours complained

In May 2018, an OSPCA officer went to the rural property after receiving a complaint about the welfare of a herd of horses. The officer saw 14 horses and one pony living in unsanitary conditions.

A veterinarian was brought in to examine the horses, which were found to be thin, with ribs, hips and spines visible on many. Their hooves were also severely neglected.

Several dead horses were also found on the property.

Dead horses were dug out of the ground on the rural property in Whitchurch-Stouffville, Ont. (James Morrison/CBC)

Originally, neighbours discovered three dead horses in a trailer concealed by trees at the back of the farmland, which prompted the OSPCA investigation.

Fourteen emaciated horses and a pony were taken off the farm and placed in new homes, while the carcasses of 10 other horses were found buried in a paddock on the property. 

In May 2018, according to the OSPCA, all three Smalls were charged with permitting an animal to be in distress, failing to provide adequate food and failing to provide care necessary for general welfare.

The OSPCA said it was continuing to monitor the care of the horses taken off the farm to ensure all veterinary recommendations are being followed in their new homes.

 

With files from Makda Ghebreslassie, Muriel Draaisma