A youth has been sentenced to four months’ detention for throwing a homeless man’s rabbit into the River Liffey in Dublin.
The animal’s owner, John Byrne, had been begging on O’Connell Bridge when his pet Barney was snatched from
his arms and callously thrown into the river.
The 37-year-old risked his life by jumping in after his beloved pet and giving him the kiss of life before both were rescued by firefighters.
Gary Kearney pleaded guilty at Dublin District Court today to animal cruelty and torture.
The 20-year-old, who is originally from Crumlin, also admitted breach of the peace during the incident on July 3rd 2011.
Sentencing Kearney, Judge Bryan Smyth said it was a serious matter.
Outside the court, Mr Byrne, who has been living on the streets for 23 years, said he was in shock when he saw his pet swimming around in circles, looking up at him.
“I wasn’t going to leave him there,” he said.
“I had to get him, I had to jump in to get him. Barney died in my arms. I got him under the bridge and gave him the kiss of life.”
Within days he was given a Compassionate Citizen Award for going above and beyond the call of duty to help an animal in need.
His story touched the hearts of thousands of people nationwide, with many offering donations and food.
Kearney was charged under the Protection of Animals Act, that he did cruelly torture or terrify an animal by throwing Barney in the Liffey.
The court heard that Kearney was brought up in care, has 138 previous convictions and is already in detention at St Patrick’s Institution.
His solicitor, Maura Kiely, said her client apologised for his behaviour.
Mr Byrne said the sentence sent out a clear message to people who abuse animals that they will not walk out of court laughing.
He said he was begging on O’Connell Bridge in Dublin’s main thoroughfare with Barney and his dog, Lily, when the rabbit was flung into the river below.
“I was scared. Wouldn’t anybody going into freezing cold water?” he said.
“And there is a seal there that would have eaten Barney. I can swim and I’d done life-saving before. Only for that I was gone. The current would have pulled me under.” Mr Byrne, who now has three dogs, said Lily will not go out begging with him since the incident.
Instead, another dog, Roxy, is regularly spotted with Mr Byrne and three-year-old Barney on Dublin’s streets. But none of them will go back near the Liffey.
“I’ve always had animals on the street with me to keep me company and to keep me happy,” Mr Byrne added.
“I think the world of animals, and rabbits are very intelligent.
“I treat them like they’re my kids. They get everything, they’re spoiled rotten like kids.” John Carmody, of animal rights group Aran, said Kearney should also have been given a psychological evaluation and a ban on owning animals for life.
“But we are delighted this guy was given four months,” he said.