Animal cruelty and neglect – restorative conference

Probation Service

Animal Cruelty and Neglect

Restorative Conference

D had owned a number of animals that he had taken good care of over a number of years, but subsequently left the animals without basic care. By the time the authorities intervened, the animals were in such a state of poor health they had to be euthanised.

D pleaded guilty to animal cruelty and neglect at Court, and the Judge in the case referred D to the Probation Service for a pre-sanction report, requesting that restorative justice options be explored.

Upon meeting a Probation Officer, D accepted that he had caused the animals harm. He understood that the Gardaí and the vet who attended the scene would have been affected when they found the animals in such a state of neglect. He explained that he had cared for animals all his life, and that the offence happened because he had ‘put his head in the sand’. He believed initially that the animals were being cared for, but he accepted that he had never properly confirmed this.

The Probation Officer assigned to the case sought the support of colleagues in the Restorative Justice and Victim Services Unit. Upon discussion, they agreed that D was suitable for restorative justice because he had accepted responsibility for the offence, and a conference could help him fully understand the harm caused and make efforts to repair the harm. The Court had requested that the case be considered for restorative justice and the Probation Officer ultimately assessed that the restorative process was a suitable way to proceed with the case.

D agreed to take part in a restorative process, which was prepared according to the International Institute of Restorative Practices model of a scripted conference. The parties involved included the Probation Officer assigned to D’s case and the Probation Officer from the Restorative Justice and Victim Services Unit, who facilitated the case. D was encouraged to nominate a support person to attend the conference and chose a relative. The Probation Officer also made contact with a member of staff from an animal welfare charity, who agreed to attend and speak to the harm done to the animals.

The facilitator prepared each participant for the conference over the telephone. They explained the process of the conference, including the questions that would be asked, the seating plan, who would attend and the fact that refreshments would be made available afterwards.

The conference began with the facilitator explaining that the process needed to operate according to restorative principles, including principles of fairness, engagement, respect, safety and honesty. The details of the incident that led to the conference were then outlined. After this, D spoke first and explained that he had cared for animals for all his life. He said that, due to personal circumstances, he stopped providing care for the animals and assumed that the arrangements he had made for their care were tenable. He accepted, however, that he had failed to seek any confirmation of the success of these arrangements and had left no contact details in case of an emergency.

The animal welfare officer explained her role in her organisation. She said that she educates young people about how to care for animals. She spoke about the contract humans make with animals by domesticating them. She said these animals were completely dependent upon D for their survival and that, by owning them, D was duty bound to care for them. She also described what the animals would have experienced when being neglected, including their eventual starvation and the condition in which they must have been for the vet to decide to euthanise them.

D’s support person said that he had always cared for animals. When he contacted her to tell her about the Court case, she was shocked because her whole family cared deeply for animals. She also brought a photograph of the animals before the neglect occurred, and each participant looked at it in turn. She said what she thought had happened and the reasons why D neglected the animals.

D spoke and again reiterated his remorse, which the animal welfare officer said she understood. The group agreed that D would visit the animal welfare organisation to see its work, and he offered to make a donation to an animal welfare charity. It was also agreed that he would write a reflective piece about what he had learned and a letter of apology to his family.

The conference concluded with refreshments, during which the participants spoke informally about their love and interest in animals. With the support of his Probation Officer, D wrote the reflective piece, made a donation to the charity and completed the rest of the agreement. At Court, the Judge imposed a fine as the sentence for the offence.