Applause erupted in a Surrey courtroom Wednesday morning as former dog walker Emma Paulsen was sentenced to six months in jail, handcuffed and led into custody by sheriffs.
Paulsen, who lives in Ladner, pleaded guilty in November to animal cruelty and public mischief for the deaths of six dogs in her care and lying to police about it last May.
Her sentencing was held in Surrey Provincial Court Jan. 28, with Judge James Jardine also sentencing her to two years probation, banning her from owning pets for 10 years and prohibiting her from operating an animal care business for life.
Jardine said while Paulsen may not have intended to kill the dogs, her conduct after the incident constituted “continued, repeated recklessness.”
Paulsen, 38, who was a professional dog walker for several years, sparked widespread media coverage, public grief and desperate searches after she reported that six dogs – one of which was her own – were stolen from the back of her truck, which she claimed was parked at a park in Langley.
She pleaded on TV for the dogs’ return, and passed along tips to searchers about sightings of the dogs – knowing they had to be false.
Five days later, she admitted she had concocted the whole story. The truth, she revealed, was the canines died in the back of her warm canopied truck while she was shopping in Richmond.
Paulsen claimed she had parked her truck in the shade of a tree at Costco and was in the store 40 minutes before emerging to discover the deceased dogs. The court heard it was 18-19 degrees celsius that day. Two dogs in the front cab area survived.
Paulsen then drove to Abbotsford, where she dumped the corpses in a ditch. In the meantime, however, she had contacted all the dogs’ owners, told them the fake story and met them at the Langley park.
Necropsies revealed the dogs died of heat stroke. A vet said it was clear the animals had suffered prior to their death, tearing up and eating bedding in the truck during frantic attempts to escape and calm renal failure.
“Surely, during the course of that afternoon,” said Jardine during sentencing, “she must have had a sense of guilt that should have caused her to check herself.”
The fact that she failed to do so, said the judge, made the situation that much worse.
He said the victim impact statements from the dog owners were difficult to read. They expressed pain, anger, loss and outrage, as well as betrayal.
“By lying, she (Paulsen) extended their emotional upset by deceiving them,” said Jardine.
Paulsen declined an opportunity to speak in court prior to her sentencing Wednesday.
Her lack of apology came as little surprise to the former owners of the deceased dogs.
“I was expecting that…it’s been nine months already,” said Amber Williams, owner deceased pit bull puppy Mia.
Colleen King, owner of bouvier/poodle Timo, said the pain of missing her dog will never go away but she was pleased with the judgment.
“I was … thrilled that he did give her jail time because it speaks to the seriousness of what she did and her actions,” she said. “And the fact that she’s never apologized to any of one of the owners is disgusting.”
Jennifer Myers, who lost Boston terrier Buddy, was also relieved by the jail time.
“We can’t take away what they (the dogs) went through, but at least this shows that yes, it was serious.”
Paul Grant, whose Rottweiler died, said his sense of trust is forever damaged.
“My wife and I, we don’t have children. Oscar was our boy. He was denied half of his life through someone’s selfish recklessness.”
The dog owners are hopeful the case will send a strong message not to leave animals in warm vehicles – and for the public to take action if they see potential neglect.
The Crown had sought six to 12 months jail, a $5,000-10,000 fine, a lifetime ban on caring for others’ animals and a 10-year prohibition from owning or living with animals. Her defence lawyer recommended a conditional sentence to be served in the community.
Paulsen had no prior criminal record.