Dog trainer fined after two French bulldogs left in car boot die of heat stress

SINGAPORE: A dog trainer was fined S$8,000 on Wednesday (June 1) for leaving two French bulldogs in the trunk of his car for an hour and a half, causing them to die from heat stress.

Sabrina Sim Xin Huey, 30, was also banned from running any animal-related business for a period of six months.

She filed an appeal against the ban, which will not take effect until the appeal is decided.

District Judge Carol Ling said she didn’t disagree with the defense that “forgetting is human error.” But “the point is, results matter,” she said.

“Even if the defendant lacked intent, the severity of the harm … caused by the defendant’s actions was high and cannot be minimized,” the judge said.

The two dogs, named Chocoby and Hunniby, were imported by their owner from Australia to Singapore.

Sim, a dog trainer since 2014, was hired to train them. The arrangement involved the dogs staying with her for the entire training period.

On August 25, 2020, Sim completed a training session, put the two dogs in the trunk of her sedan, and drove home.

She arrived home around 2:30 p.m. and parked, turning off the engine and the air conditioning. The windows were rolled up and the car was parked in an unsheltered spot in the open-air car park.

As Sim got out of the car, she got distracted by a social media post and forgot to let the bulldogs out of the car.

She closed the car door, leaving the two dogs in the trunk of her car, and went up to her apartment.

At 4 p.m., about an hour and a half later, Sim realized that she had left the dogs in the trunk. She immediately ran to the car and found the two dogs unresponsive.

She took them to a nearby veterinary clinic, but they were both dead by the time they arrived.

A post-mortem examination revealed that Chocoby had been in a state of stress prior to his death with increased red blood cell turnover.

Sim pleaded guilty in May to a charge of failing to take reasonable steps to ensure Chocoby was not confined in a way that subjected him to unnecessary pain and suffering.

Another similar charge involving Hunniby has been considered for sentencing.

National Parks Board attorney Andy Dinesh previously told the court there was a need to maintain high industry standards for accredited dog trainers.

As a professional dog trainer, Sim could have adopted standard operating procedure to check his parked car before leaving, he said.

He added that it was important to deter such behavior among pet owners, as Singapore is a tropical country with a high number of vehicle owners.

Defense lawyer Clément Julien Tan had previously maintained that since the breach, Sim had trained more than 40 dogs without incident, receiving positive reviews for his work.

Pet owners continued to search for Sim and trust him even though they knew about the incident, Mr Tan said.

He also pointed out that training dogs was her livelihood and that she supported her elderly parents with her earnings.

At sentencing, Judge Ling noted that this was Sim’s first brush with the law and that there was no evidence of recklessness or risk-taking on his part.

Sim’s conduct showed she was truly sorry for what happened and she took steps to compensate the owners of the dogs in a confidential settlement, the judge heard.

Judge Ling said that even if that meant a prison sentence was not warranted, a ban was still necessary to achieve the goal of deterring other potential offenders.

As a licensed dog trainer, Sim’s expected duty of care was higher than that of an ordinary person in charge of a dog, the judge said.

The sentence underscored the greater responsibility of animal-related businesses to provide animal care, she added.

The penalty for failing to take reasonable steps to ensure that an animal is not confined in a manner that subjects it to unnecessary pain and suffering is imprisonment for up to two years , a fine of up to S$40,000 or both.

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