A young French woman was released from police custody after pleading not guilty to mistreating her Belgian shepherd dog by striking it with a leash when it ran off after an early morning walk.

Nina Schmitt-Deschamps, a 26-year old waitress currently residing in St Julian’s, was this morning escorted to court under arrest to face criminal charges over the incident which took place yesterday morning in Mensija Road, shortly after dawn.

The prosecution explained how the young woman had allegedly been drinking the night before and was still under the influence of alcohol when she took her dog out for an early morning stroll, in the company of a friend.

Close to home, the dog ran away from its owner just as the young lady removed its leash. When some time later the dog returned, the accused allegedly struck it with the leash.

The scene was witnessed by neighbours who promptly dialled Animal Welfare and reported the woman for animal cruelty. The police were also called in and the dog's owner was charged with mistreating her pet, breaching the peace and being drunk in public.

Before Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech, Inspector Nikolai Sant, leading the prosecution, explained that the dog had been taken away by Animal Welfare and had, after being duly checked, shown no physical signs of abuse.

The woman had, in fact, insisted that her handling of the dog when it ran off was considered a form of moderate punishment, part and parcel of normal dog training, as she had been taught back in her homeland.

After the alleged ordeal, the dog and owner had played together in the presence of the police, the prosecution added. The woman appeared to take appropriate care of her pet, which had its own passport and had even presented to the police receipts for medical prescriptions purchased for the dog.

Defence lawyer Noel Cutajar, appointed as legal aid, pointed out that his client’s behaviour might have appeared disproportionate and that positive enforcement tactics might have been more appropriate in dog training. Yet, there was certainly no case of animal cruelty.

The woman was granted bail against a personal guarantee of €1,000 and on condition of signing the bail book twice a week.

Inspector Nikolai Sant prosecuted. Lawyer Noel Cutajar was defence counsel.

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