A former Canberra dog groomer has pleaded guilty to animal neglect charges after nine dogs were injured at his salons, most of them severely burned by dryers trained on them as they were trapped in cages.
The burnt skin was not always immediately noticeable under their hair and, in one case, a dog suffered for three weeks with the burns as her owner and vet tried to work out what was wrong with her.
The burnt dogs had to endure dead skin being sloughed off and surgery that sometimes meant they had to suffer with open wounds as they healed.
The thermal-type burns also did not become noticeable until days later as the skin started to scab.
The groomer, Lance Baker, 54, formerly of Macquarie, pleaded guilty in the ACT Magistrates Court to two charges of neglect animal so as to cause pain.
Magistrate Beth Campbell on November 25 fined him $6000 and sentenced him to a four-month jail sentence, fully suspended on him entering an 18-month good behaviour bond.
But Baker, who has been declared bankrupt, is unlikely to pay the fine or the thousands of dollars in vet bills.
He has also relocated to Melbourne so was not able to be sentenced to any community service.
The offences occurred at two salons then owned by Baker – Dog World at Hume and Animal Attractions at Macquarie – between June 1, 2013, and September 6, 2013.
Eight of the dogs were burned – Banjo, Boo Boo, Cupid, Bella, Theo, Molly, Miley and Ella. A ninth, Angus, fell off the grooming table and injured his leg.
The owners of Miley, Jaid and Jenny Dawson, of Banks, believe Baker got a "quite lenient" sentence and were upset there was nothing to prevent him from working with animals again.
"I feel a little bit disgusted," Mr Dawson said.
Miley suffered third-degree burns at Dog World on September 7, 2013.
At the time, the couple said their much-loved spoodle, now seven years old, looked like she had "basically been put in a fan-forced oven".
The Dawsons spent $11,000 on vet fees and $5000 in legal fees trying to locate Baker. They were given a $5400 donation from dog lovers after their story appeared in The Canberra Times.
Mrs Baker said she understood the limitations placed on the magistrate.
"But the worry in the end is you can't be sure it won't happen again.," she said.
Baker maintained that another employee had caused the injuries but as the owner of the two salons, he took responsibility.
He promised the owners publicly in The Canberra Times in November 2013 that he would repay their vet fees but none of them have seen a cent.
A statement of facts tendered to the court outlined that Baker's partner, Claire Carmody, who co-owned the salons, confirmed to RSPCA inspectors that the "small dogs were placed in cat carry cages and left with one of the dryers blowing on to them".
The cages would become extremely hot and the dogs had no way to escape the blasts of heat.
Another staff member, when questioned about her qualifications, told the inspectors Baker had taught her.
Charnwood woman Nadine Morton's then five-year-old Maltese-cross, Boo, suffered burns at Animal Attraction on July 27. His vet fees were $1800. She said on Friday she was disappointed with Baker's sentence.
"Really, we were expecting it," Mrs Morton said.
Mrs Morton said after her dog was injured, another six were burnt at the salons even as she complained to Baker about the treatment Boo had received.
"If he had of listened to us when we were worried about Boo's injuries, all the other dogs would have been saved," she said.