A Surrey woman who pleaded guilty to stealing two dogs will not receive a criminal record for the acts – provided she behaves herself for the next year.
Louise Mary Alice Reid, 60, was given the conditional discharge in Surrey Provincial Court last week for taking a 74-year-old Surrey man’s American Staffordshire sometime between March 1 and July 31, 2011, and for her role in the Nov. 21, 2011, theft of an English bulldog named Samson from a Coquitlam backyard.
In rendering his sentence, Judge Peder Gulbransen made no bones that the offence is a serious one.
“The consequences of these kinds of thefts can be way worse than stealing a car,” Gulbransen said. “People love their dogs. (Such a theft) breaks their heart completely… especially when it’s done in an arrogant fashion.”
Reid, a driver with Coast Mountain Bus Company and a volunteer with A Better Life Dog Rescue, was one of two women arrested Nov. 21 in connection with an extensive investigation. White Rock resident Janet Olson was also arrested and now faces 36 charges, ranging from theft and fraud to break-and-enter in connection with incidents across the Lower Mainland dating back to 2006.
Four other women – Diane Young Hale, Michaela Schnittker, Christine Carter and Natalia Borojevic – have also been charged.
In addressing the court Friday, prosecutor Michelle Wray outlined how Reid had learned of the 74-year-old’s dog, Mercedes, through his mail carrier. The postal worker had called Reid with concerns about the dog, asking her to rescue it, Wray said.
Reid met the senior – a retired veterinarian who uses a motorized wheelchair – and offered to help him by walking Mercedes.
“She took Mercedes for a walk but did not return,” Wray said.
Reid told police she took Mercedes because she “understood that the dog had been mistreated,” Wray said.
The later theft was also triggered by reports of mistreatment, the court heard. It followed surveillance of two women – both dressed in green uniforms emblazoned with the words “animal welfare” – by the Surrey RCMP’s Property Crime Target Team.
A veterinary check of Samson determined the dog was in good physical condition, Wray said.
While Wray said she believes Reid was acting out of genuine belief she was helping the dogs, the thefts are “not the type of offence the general public should understand to be acceptable.”
In appealing for leniency, Reid’s lawyer, Kelly Johnston, said his client got involved with ABLDR by offering to foster rescue animals. As time went by, Reid fielded complaints about various dogs, and volunteers took things into their own hands, believing “the SPCA was not up to the task of investigating situations of abuse.”
“What’s obviously unfortunate in both these cases (is that the volunteers) didn’t take the appropriate steps to investigate these things themselves.”
Johnston said Reid always intended to take responsibility for her actions and is both remorseful and embarrassed.
“She had her heart in the right place,” he said.
Johnston asked Gulbransen to consider that Reid has been shamed at work for her actions, as well as by media coverage.
Gulbransen described the case as “about as unusual a case as I’ve seen in a long time.”
And while he has “no doubt” Reid acted in good faith and won’t reoffend, he said her conduct “shows a real ignorance of the way people deal with other people’s properties or rights.”
In addition to the conditional discharge, Gulbransen handed Reid a year’s probation and ordered her to pay the owner restitution for the cost of his dog, $2,500. She is not to communicate with Olson and is to have no involvement with ABLDR.
Outside court, owner Kresna Widjaja said he was “devastated” by the theft of Mercedes, and upset that someone would say he wasn’t looking after her.
“The dog was healthy. As a veterinarian, I don’t let my dogs suffer,” he said.
Widjaja was also upset that Reid never offered him an explanation as to why he was targeted and that she didn’t apologize to him.
“My heart is still with Mercedes. I want (Reid) to say she’s sorry.”
Olson is next due in court Oct. 2, in connection with a breach of her conditions that allegedly occurred on Dec. 5, 2011.
A trial confirmation date regarding the other charges against her is set for April 10, 2013; a preliminary inquiry is set to get underway June 7. Five days are booked.
Wray said that both Schnittker and Borojevic have been diverted to an alternate-measures program.
According to court records, all four of the other women charged are due back in court on Oct. 2.