SINGAPORE — The owner of a pet hotel where at least two dogs died following a stay at its Bukit Panjang premises, was sentenced to two weeks' jail and fined $35,700 on Tuesday (31 August).
Charlotte Liew, a 33-year-old Singaporean who ran Platinium Dogs Club, was also disqualified from running an animal-related business for 12 months, with effect from Tuesday.
Liew pleaded guilty to one count of furnishing false information, obstructing the course of justice, one count under the Business Names Registration Act 2014 and four counts of failing to ensure that an animal is provided with adequate and suitable food and water.
Another five charges of a similar nature were taken into consideration for her sentencing.
The jail term that Liew was given was in relation to her penal code charge of obstructing justice, while she was fined over the other charges.
Yahoo News Singapore first reported on the Platinium saga in December 2018 when Joanne Png, whose Jack Russell Terrier died under Liew's care, and several pet owners went public with allegations that their pets had been mistreated while staying at the pet hotel.
Investigated by ACRA
Liew directed her sister Tam Charmaine to register Platinium Dogs Club as a business on 30 October 2018. She abetted Tam to state that the address for the business was Woodlands Avenue 1, when it was actually a house along Galistan Avenue, and to lie that Tam was the owner when Liew was the true owner.
She also directed Tam to state that the business commenced on 31 October 2018, when it had already been operating from January.
In September 2018, the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority received a letter from a person who alleged that Platinium was not a registered business entity. The individual had tried to seek recourse against Platinium in the Small Claims Tribunal but discovered that it was not a registered business entity.
Liew was then called up for investigations on 29 September.
On 14 December, Liew met the owner of Prince, a seven-year-old Shetland sheepdog. The owner wanted to place Prince in Platinium while she was overseas from 16 December 2018 to 22 January 2019.
Satisfied with the conditions of the premises, Prince's owner paid $945 to Liew for Prince to be boarded in a single private room and fed twice a day. The owner was told that a staff member would be present at Platinium at all times and that the facility would be fully air-conditioned.
During Prince’s stay, Liew only provided updates to the owner by video text messages on 18 December and 22 December. Prince died in the next two days. The actual circumstances and cause of its death are unknown.
Liew claimed that it was bitten to death by another dog at the facility during her absence.
On 24 December, Liew engaged Mobile Pet Cremation to cremate the carcass. She used a fictitious name for herself, Rachel Wong, and lied that the carcass was her 15-year-old dog named Crayon. She signed off on the form provided by the cremation company.
"The accused did this with the intention to obstruct the course of justice by destroying evidence that would have been valuable to investigating into Prince’s cause of death," said the prosecution. Since the dog's carcass was cremated, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) was unable to establish its cause of death.
On 30 December, Liew then lied to Prince's owner that the dog was missing. She claimed that officers from the AVA had raided Platinium and taken away some dogs which were unlicensed. She told the owner that officers had left the premises unlocked. She later ignored the owner's calls.
On 2 January 2019, the owner went to Platinium to look for Liew, imploring Liew to reveal Prince's whereabouts, even getting down on her knees.
Liew ignored the owner's pleas. Not knowing that Prince had died, the owner organised a search party to look for the dog.
Liew also provided false information to the AVA regarding Prince on 6 January 2019, but recanted a day later.
On 27 December 2018, AVA officers visited Platinium after receiving multiple complaints from dog owners and members of the public. Nobody answered the door. When AVA officers visited the premises again two days later, Liew was not contactable.
Dogs found in terrible conditions
AVA officers sought the assistance of the landlord of the premises to enter on 29 December. A total of 12 dogs and a rabbit were found in the area, some of which were leashed to fixtures while others roamed freely. Urine and faeces were also littered throughout the three floors of the premises.
A white husky and an Australian shepherd were found on short leashes in rooms which were hot and stuffy. They did not have space for feeding or rest, or to relieve themselves.
AVA eventually managed to contact Liew through her property agent at about 4.30pm that day.
One dog dead, another went missing
On 20 December 2018, Joanne Png had placed her 14-year-old Jack Russell Terrier named QQ, and another dog with Platinium. Png said that QQ had acute pancreatitis and provided a special low-fat kibble diet for QQ. She told Liew that QQ could only eat her kibble. Liew also failed to give Png daily updates on her dog.
In response to Liew's update that QQ was not doing well on 26 December, Png requested that QQ be brought to her vet. Liew did so but left immediately after dropping the dog off. QQ died about 4.5 hours after her admission to the clinic.
Post-mortem examination revealed that QQ suffered from acute renal failure. Chronic active pancreatic necrosis was observed and it was noted that her pancreatitis could have flared up due to a sudden intake of fatty diet. The owner stated that the kibble she provided was returned to her untouched.
On 30 December 2018, a dog named Texas who was boarded at Platinium escaped when Liew opened the gate. Liew tried to retrieve it but could not as she found the dog aggressive. She gave up and rebuffed a neighbour's attempt to help her. Liew left at 6.30am without recovering the dog.
The neighbour decided to search for Texas. She discovered it along a main road nearby and later managed to coax it into her house at about 7.30am. She housed Texas for two days before returning the dog to its owner on 1 January 2019.
Meanwhile, Liew did not make any enquiries about Texas.
In mitigation, Liew said through her lawyer Tang Shangwei that she was remorseful for her actions and regretted the events that transpired. On hindsight, she would have done things differently, the lawyer said.
Tang said that Liew was out returning dogs at the material time due to circumstances, and did not attend to the dogs for a "short period of time".
Providing false information to a public servant is punishable with up to six months’ jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
Each of Liew’s charges under the Animals and Birds Act carries a maximum fine of up to $40,000 along with a possible jail term of up to two years.
Her alleged offences under the Business Names Registration Act are each punishable with a fine of up to $10,000 along with a possible jail term of up to two years.
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