Horse-hanging trial verdict delayed until September

The trial for two men accused of starving and hanging a horse came to an end this week with the decision to adjourn the verdict until September.

The trial for two men accused of starving and hanging a horse came to an end this week with the decision to adjourn the verdict until September.

David Whiffen of Brentwood Bay was charged with hanging his 25-year-old horse Jalupae from an excavator on September 15, 2009. That charge has been stayed.

Whiffen, and co-accused Clayton Cunningham, also faces charges of causing unnecessary pain and suffering to an animal and failing to provide the horse with the necessities of life.

During the four-day trial, neither of the accused took the stand in their defense. However, the court heard from multiple witnesses, including veterinarian Dr. Geoff Gaunt.

Gaunt testified that he had visited Whiffen’s Brentwood Bay property on September 10, 2009, as a result of a SPCA order to check on the horse.

“Its ribs were showing, hip bones were showing,” recalled Gaunt. “This was obviously thin to anyone that looked at him.”

Gaunt told the court that upon further investigation, he found that Jalupae’s molars had been worn down to the gum line, with sharp edges that could’ve dug into the horse’s cheek, causing pain. He said the horse would not be able to eat with teeth in that condition, most likely contributing to his low weight.

Gaunt recalled telling Whiffen that the only treatment for this would be a strict feed regime, to which Whiffen responded “I don’t want to do that.”

It was then, Gaunt said, that Whiffen suggested putting the horse down. “Sadly, I agreed with him,” said Gaunt.

Gaunt offered to deliver the lethal injection then and there, but Whiffen refused, saying he needed time.

The men had arranged for Gaunt to come back the following Monday, Sept. 14, but on the day, Gaunt was told by Cunningham that Jalupae had been moved, and that they were going to try the feed regime. No further appointment was made.

Prosecutor Catherine Murray then questioned Gaunt on the possibility of hanging being a quick and painless death for a horse.

“Horses’ necks do not snap,” pointed out Gaunt.

He said death would likely be caused by asphyxiation by strangulation, and it couldn’t have happened in less than 60 seconds.

He also added that the final moments leading up to his death would be very stressful for the horse, as the horse would try to fight against the noise of the excavator and the raising of the rope.

The same day that Gaunt took the stand, the court heard from the defense’s first witness of the trial, Stephen Oulette.

Oulette, 51, is a friend of Whiffen’s who was present at the time of the hanging.

As well, Whiffen had taken in a horse of Oulette’s and, as Oulette testified, he was confident in the care the horses were receiving at the farm.

“He loves animals, [he] wanted them to be happy,” said Oulette of Whiffen.

Oulette testified that he went to the farm on Sept. 15 after Whiffen called him in distress over what he said was an SPCA order to have Jalupae euthanized by 9 a.m.

Whiffen was very frustrated, but thought that hanging would be quick.

Leading up to what Oulette called “the finale,” he tried to calm the horse, telling Jalupae that his time had come.

“I accepted it as closure that what we were doing was right,” he said.

Cunningham had tied a rope around Jalupae’s neck, then attached that rope to an excavator. However, Oulette remembered, Cunningham walked away, saying he couldn’t do this to the horse he loved.

Whiffen had gotten into the cab of the excavator, but was hesitant at first.

“I told him ‘it has to be done, David’,” said Oulette.

Whiffen then raised the bucket quickly, which raised the horse by the neck.

“There was no kicking, no fighting, it just went slack,” said Oulette. “It does sounds barbaric but really it was effective.”

“The key questions is is there pain,” asked defense lawyer Bill Heflin. “Did you observe that horse in pain?”

“Not at all,” replied Oulette.


The case will be adjourned until September to give the defense time to close their final submissions, with the final decision made by Judge Sue Wishart in October.



Peninsula News Review