Tuesday 12 December 2017

Pet casket didn't have beloved dog's ashes

Vet apologises after admitting he attempted to hide error to avoid causing distress to dog's owner

A Mid-Cork vet has been cleared of trying to obtain money by deception after he charged a woman for the cremation of her dog only for her to discover that the ashes she received back in a casket did not belong to her beloved pet.

Con Twomey (68) of Coachford had denied the charge that he dishonestly by deception induced Noreen O'Mahony into paying him €200 for the cremation of her dog, Emily, with the intention of making a gain for himself and causing her a loss between January 31 and February 24, 2016.

Ms O'Mahony told Macroom District Court how, when her Belgian Shepherd, Samson, was put down in 2015 by a vet in Ballincollig, she had the dog cremated by a firm in Castleisland, called Pets to Rest, and she received a casket with Samson's name and a certificate stating it contained his ashes.

A year later when her other Belgian Shepherd, Samons's niece, Emily, took ill, she called Mr Twomey on January 31, 2016. He diagnosed the ten year old dog had eaten rat bait and would not survive, and they agreed to have the dog put down and he promised to get her cremated for a fee of €200.

However, when Ms O'Mahony collected the casket for Emily three weeks later she noticed both the casket and the bag with ashes were much smaller and lighter than what they received back when Samson was cremated, even though they were similar sized dogs.

She told how she rang Mr Twomey's surgery and his secretary, Lisa O'Toole, told her that Mr Twomey had noticed that the ashes were light and that a mistake had been made and Ms O'Tooke started to cry and told her that she was 'heartbroken' for her as she was a dog lover herself.

Mr Twomey called to her house the following day and when she asked him about the casket he became "very agitated and shifty" and he told her first that Pets to Rest had done "a very unprofessional job and had only returned partial ashes".

But then he changed his story to say Emily's remains had been sent to a firm in North Cork for cremation but when she rang the company, Burke's of Bartlemy, they told her they did not do cremations but were an animal waste disposal firm.

Mr Twomey offered to refund her the €200 she had paid him to have Emily cremated but she declined and when she asked him why he felt so responsible as to offer to refund her the money he told her that it was "a gesture of goodwill".

"I was charged €200 by Con Twomey for a cremation that was not done by Pets to Rest - I do not know what it is in that bag but I know it is not my dog, Emily," said Ms O'Mahony as she held up the bag for Judge James McNulty to see.

"I could have dealt with the truth - if he told me the truth, that he made a mistake, we all make mistakes - I could have dealt with that but I was lied to and led a merry dance by Con Twomey. He was asked to do a specific job, he got paid to do it but clearly it wasn't done," said Ms O'Mahony.

Now retired Garda Flor McCarthy, who investigated a complaint by the O'Mahonys, said that Mr Twomey had a made a statement to him on March 23, 2016 in which he said he had put Emily down at his surgery but he admitted failing to label her body when putting her in the deep freeze.

Mr McCarthy told Garda McCarthy that it was his intention to have the dog cremated by Pets to Rest but the following day, or soon after, Burke's of Bartlemy called to collect animals from the deep freeze for disposal and the O'Mahonys' dog was given to Burke's in error.

"Within a few days I realised my mistake, that I had forgotten to label the O'Mahony dog, and if I had done so Burke's would not have taken her. I went ahead and ordered a casket from Pets to Rest with a name plaque, thinking that that symbol would suffice and I put the ashes in the casket."

The O'Mahonys were such nice people that he didn't want to upset them by telling them about the mistake so he called to them to apologise on February 24 and offered to pay back the €200 but they declined, he told Garda McCarthy in his statement.

"The dog was disposed of legally by Burke's and incinerated. It was an error on my part not to label the dog due to the fact it was after midnight I just thought that by giving them a symbol in the casket it would be sufficient. I again apologise sincerely," he said in his statement.

Mr Twomey took the stand and said that he had ordered a casket in an effort to provide some solace for Ms O'Mahony as he read an article in the Veterinary Journal which recommended giving some symbol of a dead pet, such as casket or a cross or a photograph, to the animal's grieving owners.

Judge McNulty, who had offered to recuse himself from hearing the case at the outset if Mr Twomey so wished, because he was a dog owner, said if it weren't for the fact that the case was so serious he would compare it to something from Somerville and Ross's 'Some Experiences of an Irish RM'.

But it was a serious matter and the whole case underscored yet again the wisdom of Sir Walter Scott in his epic poem 'Marmion' when he wrote 'Oh what a tangled web we weave/When first we practice to deceive' - which highlighted a deceit can rebound on the deceiver with serious consequences.

As a dog lover, he had every sympathy for Ms O'Mahony and he could still recall tears rolling down his eyes on to his pinstripe suit 30 years ago when his dog died and although his souvenirs were all in his memory, he could understand her wish to remember Emily by keeping her ashes in a casket.

Judge McNulty said Mr Twomey had admitted in his statement he made a mistake by not labelling Emily's remains but what he did afterwards only aggravated the original minor wrongdoing and proved that honesty is the best policy in such cases when mistakes are made.

"He acknowledged he made a mistake on the night by not labelling Emily's remains for cremation - that's where the wrong occurred and then it got worse. Knowing he had made a mistake he tried in his hamfisted way to ease the pain but that only made matters worse," he said.

"To source a small wooden casket and dress it up with a tacky plaque and present it to the owner was inexcusable for a professional man of 44 years experience .... his action was well meaning but crass and deeply deceitful, and it was, to use his own words, 'shameful behaviour'."

However, for the State to succeed it needed prove Mr Twomey not only carried out a deception but that he did so with the intention of making a gain and he believed that the State had failed to prove intent, and for that reason he had a doubt and was dismissing the charge against Mr Twomey.


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