An "overloaded" Canberra mother has blamed financial and family-related pressures for a level of neglect that left her starving pet dog on the brink of emaciation.
Nicole Louise Francis, 39, was sentenced in the ACT Magistrates Court on Wednesday to a pair of 12-month good behaviour orders.
She had previously pleaded guilty to charges of failing to provide an animal with appropriate food and treatment.
Court documents show that RSPCA inspectors visited Francis's Wanniassa home in July 2018 after receiving a complaint about the condition of her Staffordshire bull terrier cross dingo.
From a public laneway beside the house, the inspectors could see that the dog, Molly, was "significantly underweight, with spinal protrusions, ribs and hip bones visible through [her] skin".
When confronted by the inspectors, Francis insisted that Molly had "only become skinny in the previous two weeks".
She said she had been feeding the dog wet and dry food, as well as chicken, while the inspectors could see that Molly had access to water.
Not satisfied with Molly's condition, however, the RSPCA seized her.
In a subsequent examination at the RSPCA shelter in Weston, veterinarians assessed her body condition score on a scale where emaciated animals are 1 and those considered severely obese are 9.
The ideal score is in the range of 4 to 5, but Molly's condition was found to be somewhere between 1.5 and 2.
A month later, Francis hung up the phone on inspectors who offered her the opportunity to participate in an interview about the matter, saying only: "I just want my dog back."
Court documents show that after being taken into RSPCA care and "provided with a high-quality diet", Molly gained weight.
Experts found as a result that her condition upon seizure was "likely to be a result of starvation/malnutrition".
A veterinarian's report said: "It is my professional opinion ... that this dog suffered from neglect leading to her suffering ongoing pain and degenerative joint disease of her left stifle. Further, it is my opinion that the neglect led to marked loss in body condition due to the provision of an inadequate type and/or amount of food."
In court on Wednesday, Legal Aid lawyer Chris Brown said Francis had been "overloaded" as she tried to deal with the loss of a job and significant family issues at the relevant time.
"It was a case of neglect ... rather than deliberate cruelty," Mr Brown told the court.
He went on to say that Francis, who ended up declaring bankruptcy last year, had rescued Molly "from a very sad situation" as a puppy and largely given the dog "a good life".
Prosecutor Kiara Sheridan urged Magistrate Louise Taylor to consider that the welfare of animals in the care of humans was entirely dependent on their owners.
She also applied for an order that would ban Francis from owning an animal for a period of time to be determined by the court.
But Ms Taylor said that was "a bit rich" given that the offences had been committed more than two years ago, and Francis could have owned "10 dogs" in that time if she had wanted to.
The magistrate said there were no related convictions on Francis's criminal record and while Molly had been "clearly underweight", this was not the most serious example of animal welfare offending.
Ms Taylor refused the application, saying: "I'm satisfied that these two offences have led [Francis] to appreciate the responsibility of caring for an animal."
She convicted Francis on both charges, however, and directed her to sign the good behaviour orders.