DIGBY — Gail Benoit, a Digby County woman accused of selling sick and dying puppies, slumped to the floor in Digby provincial court Thursday after she was sentenced to 21 days behind bars for resisting arrest.
Upon hearing Judge Jean-Louis Batiot say that she was headed to jail, Ms. Benoit glanced quickly to her right, then fell, rather slowly, to the floor.
Some in the audience laughed while others smiled as they watched two sheriff’s deputies try to help the woman.
The court recessed, and as Judge Batiot left the bench, Ms. Benoit’s husband began to shout profanities and threats, saying his wife sometimes chokes.
"If my wife chokes in that jail, you fellas are going to be held responsible," Dana Bailey hollered, at one point addressing his remarks to "Mr. Batiot."
"How could you do that? This is not fair," he yelled at the judge.
Police and sheriff’s officers hustled Mr. Bailey out of the courtroom, pushed him out the front door of the courthouse and told him to move along. His wife, who had recovered by then, was then led away to jail.
In the fall of 2007, a search warrant was executed and 10 puppies seized from the couple’s home near Digby.
After a trial late last year, Ms. Benoit and Mr. Bailey were convicted on Jan. 29 of animal cruelty and each was fined $1,500 on Thursday. Ms. Benoit was also convicted of resisting arrest, for which she was jailed Thursday, and assaulting an SPCA special constable, for which she was handed a suspended sentence.
Crown attorney Rosalind Michie said Thursday that Ms. Benoit and Mr. Bailey have sold as many as 30,000 dogs in the past 13 years, sometimes selling 200 in a month.
Some people who have bought puppies from Ms. Benoit have complained to the provincial SPCA that the dogs soon died.
Ms. Michie also told the court that this is Ms. Benoit’s third conviction since 1994 for assaulting a peace officer.
"The Crown takes that very seriously," she told Judge Batiot.
She said Ms. Benoit and Mr. Bailey, who called themselves puppy brokers during their trial last year, have never accepted responsibility for their actions.
"All along, nothing has ever been their fault," Ms. Michie said. "There is no expression of any remorse."
The prosecutor said after court that she "would have liked to have seen a prohibition of (owning) animals" placed on the couple. But she said that under the Animal Cruelty Prevention Act, ownership of an abused or neglected animal is required for such a ban to be implemented, and it was determined during last year’s trial that the puppies weren’t owned by the couple but were merely possessed for the purpose of selling them.
Defence lawyer Michael Power said the level of neglect of the puppies was rather low. Although the animal cruelty charges dealt with 10 dogs, he said there is evidence that hundreds of dogs have passed through his clients’ care, the majority without complaint.
Mr. Power said Mr. Bailey, who turns 47 next week, is disabled and receives $869 a month from the Workers’ Compensation Board. Ms. Benoit, 39, also is disabled, the lawyer said, and gets $830 a month.
"They are not bad people. They are business people," Mr. Power said.
He said their puppy brokerage has been hurt by negative publicity.
"The business is basically in limbo now," he said.
Mr. Power also told the court that his clients sometimes speak their minds too freely in public.
"They blurt things out," he said.
"I’ve admonished them . . . I’ve told them to quiet down those emotions. But they do become emotional."
Ms. Benoit and Mr. Bailey must also pay $2,478 in restitution for care and treatment of the sick puppies, and Ms. Benoit will be on probation for 18 months.Gail Benoit Faints at Prospect of Going to Jail