An artificial intelligence expert has been cleared of breaking animal welfare laws after a judge accepted he had climate control switched on when he left his poodle in his car during a heatwave.
Ross Hunt pleaded not guilty to charges under the Animal, Health and Welfare Act.
A concerned passer-by noticed the poodle, Loki, in the Tesla S model car parked at Herbert Road, in Dublin 4.
At the time, Mr Hunt was meeting his solicitor at Roly’s Bistro in Ballsbridge, Dublin District Court heard.
The trial heard his small toy poodle dog was seen inside the Tesla for about an hour. The car windows were up during the summer’s day in last year’s heatwave.
Mr Hunt, a qualified safari ranger, told the court he loved animals and he runs an artificial intelligence business which helps monitor cows and their welfare in farms in north America.
He said he brought Loki everywhere with him and the climate control settings in his Tesla were always set at 20 degrees. They also stayed turned on even after the vehicle was locked, he said.
He also included Loki in work activities and online promotions of his business, he said.
He told the court he tried to explain about his car’s air conditioning system to a Dublin Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (DSPCA) inspector and a garda, but they did not get into his car to check if it was cooler inside than outside.
He said he showed them his phone with an app displaying the car’s inside temperature.
He had also thought they were going to break one of the windows as he came running to them.
In cross-examination, with prosecution counsel Gareth Robinson, he said he regretted the way he spoke to the witnesses, but also told the court, the dog was not left long, did not need water and was not distressed or panting.
The court heard that he then left with Loki.
A expert witness from Tesla confirmed the car was fitted with a climate control system that could stay activated when the car was locked from the outside.
In closing arguments, defence barrister Oisín Clarke submitted that because of the car’s air conditioning system it did not matter how hot it was outside, the inside temperature remained the same.
Dismissing the charges, Judge John Brennan said he accepted Mr Hunt’s evidence and said it was quite clear he was very loving, responsible and caring dog owner.
He described it as an example of “a dog is a man’s best friend”.
Witness Louise Martin was also commended by the judge. She contacted gardai and the DSPCA after she saw the dog in the car on June 27 last year.
Giving evidence today, Ms Martin said after her coffee break at around 11am, she went for a walk and saw the Tesla car and the dog was sitting on a seat.
It was very hot and none of the windows were opened.
She went for a walk. However, she came back 10 minutes later, “because I could not stop thinking of the car”. She arrived back at the car at about 11.15, she said. The dog was still in it and she noticed his water bowl was upside down and empty, she told the court.
The trial heard that a lot of people stopped and one person checked in a local cafe for the owner. Then she rang the DSPCA because she was really worried and they contacted gardai who came from Donnybrook station at 12 o’clock. A DSPCA inspector got there 15 minutes later, she said.
She told Garda Cormac O’Donnell that she was worried about the dog.
She had been aware about recent ad campaign about dogs getting left in cars, she said.
Ms Martin said the owner of the car, Mr Hunt, came running from the direction of Ballsbridge and was shouting, “That’s my car”, a few minutes after gardai and the DSPCA arrived.
She told the court the man, “referred to myself and the garda as interfering busybodies” and he probably swore too.
In cross-examination with defence counsel Mr Clarke, she said she was not aware that that type of car had climate control that could be left on. She agreed Mr Hunt came running and she thought he was afraid gardai were going to break the window of his car.
Garda Cormac O’Donnell said the windows of the Tesla were closed and the dog was in the footwell of the car.
He described the weather conditions, telling the court it was a very hot day.
“The sun was beaming down, there was a heatwave and it appeared the dog was trying to get under the dashboard as much as possible to get out of the sunlight,” he said.
He said that when the accused arrived he was “dismissive of the whole incident from start to finish and did not believe it was a big deal”.
“I do recall him stating busybodies gobs****s, nothing better to do,” the garda said adding that he took Mr Hunt’s details. He said he had no further dealings with the man.
He was asked to go to Tesla’s premises in Sandyford to get a witness statement there from a senior technician, but the technician did not want to provide one.
The expert was subpoenaed by the prosecution to come to court to give evidence.
In cross-examination, Garda O’Donnell said the accused had been agitated and had stated he had been in a meeting with his solicitor at Roly’s Bistro in Ballsbridge.
The prosecution was brought by the Department of Agriculture, which had also brought a Met Éireann weather expert to court.
But that witness did not have to give evidence after the defence accepted it was a hot day. The judge also noted evidence from another witness that it was during a heatwave.
DSPCA inspector Patrick Mulcahy said the temperature was 25 degrees at the time and he had checked it on his phone. The car windows were pulled up and the dog was in the passenger footwell looking for shade, he said.
Its tongue was hanging out and he believed it was in distress. He said the car was in the full glare of the sunshine and there was no trees or shade. He said there was an empty bowl of some fluid which had been turned sideways. He took photos of the dog and the car, the court was told.
He said when Mr Hunt arrived he tried to caution him that anything he said would be taken down and used in evidence. He said the accused told him he did not understand.
He said Mr Hunt – with an address at Rock Road, Blackrock, Dublin – told him he had been in a meeting.
He claimed that when asked why there was no water he said “dogs don’t need water for an hour”.
He said the accused showed him an app on his phone and it showed that the temperature was 25 degrees. He denied that it said 20 degrees.