Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Man locked up for rabbit river toss

John Byrne on the streets of Dublin with his pet rabbit Barney before it was thrown into a river
John Byrne on the streets of Dublin with his pet rabbit Barney before it was thrown into a river

A youth has been sentenced to four months' detention for throwing a homeless man's rabbit into a river.

The animal's owner, John Byrne, had been begging on Dublin's O'Connell Bridge when his pet Barney was snatched from his arms and callously thrown into the River Liffey.

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 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 3, 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.

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