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Park given suspended sentence

The Western Communities Provincial Courthouse - Britt Santowski
The Western Communities Provincial Courthouse
— image credit: Britt Santowski

On Thursday, Feb 20, after entering a “guilty” plea, Catherine Gaye Park of Sooke, was sentenced under the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals Act, after the SPCA removed some dead cats from her home in May, 2013.

Park’s case, according to sentencing judge, Honourable Judge Smith, “points out how fragile we all are.” He gave her a suspended sentence that included two years probation, 40 hours of community service to be completed in six months, and a five year prohibition on owning any cats and dogs. A suspended sentence means if she does not comply with her sentence, it can be re-addressed by the courts.

Her story includes a collision of mental health issues, stressful life events and increased poverty, which resulted in her killing some of the cats that were in her care, on May 13, 2013. In December, following a BC SPCA investigation, Park was charged under the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals Act.

After attending court to hear the charges on Jan 9, Park was given six weeks to seek legal council, and was required to return to court on Feb 20 to enter a plea. According to Park’s testimony in court, her request for Legal Aid was denied.

Standing before the judge just after 2 p.m. on Feb 20, Park listened as Crown Counsel S. Salmond reviewed the case against her.

In presenting the Crown’s argument to the judge, Salmond said Park had killed several cats on the night in question. He noted she had a large number of cats in her care (over 30), that she was having difficulty in dealing with the animals, and she was not having luck in getting help. At 11 p.m. on May 13, 2013, Park’s friend Brad Davies had filed a report with the RCMP, saying Park had “gone crazy” and “was killing cats.”

Continuing his narrative, Salmond noted Davies was concerned about Park, as Park told him she had wanted to hurt herself but didn’t know how to do it. Davies described Park as a “cat rescue lady” to the RCMP, and stated what she had done was out of character. Davies speculated she was off her medication, and noted she was drinking again after 13 dry years.

When the RCMP arrived on site, they asked Park how many cats she had killed, to which she replied seven. The RCMP took Park to the Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria, where she stayed for several days.

The description provided by Davies was heavily considered by Crown Counsel.

From there, Park picked up the story.

Unrepresented, Park stood before the judge. With shaking hands and a voice that sometimes wavered, she told the judge her story.

Park said she had been struggling emotionally since the death of her father in April 2012. Her mother’s dementia had also become more severe. Where her parents had historically helped out with the financing of her animals, the additional funding ceased.

In early May, Park was not able to afford a trip to visit her mother and because of a lack of funds, Park also stopped taking her medication, medication that assists her with her mental health issues. She considered this an opportunity to wean herself off the drugs.

Park also deals with a high sensitivity to loud noises, and on the afternoon of the day in question, after several days off her medication, the sounds became overwhelming. Her dog was barking, the cats were scratching on the screen door, and the phone was ringing incessantly (Park said her mother rang her 17 - 18 times). Park called the SPCA, saying she needed to get rid of her animals to avoid cruelty charges. She was asking for help, and she knew she was starting to break down.

At 5 p.m., Park said she called Davies and asked him to bring a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of cider. Then, said Park, she snapped. She started killing the animals.

She had since surrendered all of her remaining domestic pets, including a dog, 16 indoor cats, and six feral cats. She is on social assistance, and is working with her doctor to ensure that her prescription is proper, and to apply for disability.

She admitted to being ashamed of what she had done, and says she “re-thinks it every day.” She also said she is no longer drinking.

In considering his sentence, Judge Smith acknowledged how Park came to her fragile state and how her turning away from her meds and turning towards alcohol all contributed to her growing fragility.

“Everything became distorted to you, and you were a very unhealthy person,” Judge Smith said. In considering her sentence, he was mindful of the fact that she acknowledged what she did was wrong, and she fully cooperated with the authorities.

Besides the suspended sentence, Park is to refrain from taking alcohol or uncontrolled substances, and to attend any counselling that is recommended by her probation officer.

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