Alberta SPCA officers were shocked to discover 201 dogs in distress — some emaciated and dehydrated with broken limbs and sores — on a southern Alberta property, resulting in the largest removal of dogs in the agency’s history.
The Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society, or AARCS, which took ownership of the animals, called it “one of the worse cases of neglect” the organization has ever seen.
Two of the dogs later died — one succumbed to injury and the other was euthanized for health reasons.
Peace officers were first called to the rural property near Milk River in December after a member of the public notified the SPCA with concerns about the animals’ welfare.
When they arrived, they were able to convince the owner to voluntarily surrender 60 of the dogs, which meant officers were able to immediately transfer ownership to animal rescue and adoption agencies.
“We knew there were still dogs on the property,” said Roland Lines, spokesman with the Alberta SPCA, adding it was estimated the 60 dogs represented half of the total number of animals on the property.
“Further talk with the owner could not convince the owner to surrender any more of the dogs, so that’s why we ended up getting a search warrant.”
In January, officers returned with a warrant giving them the ability to conduct a thorough search. They were shocked and upset to find 141 additional dogs — a mix of puppies and adult dogs — on the premises, all of them in distress.
“The majority of the dogs were on chains staked to the ground,” Lines said. “The chains were of various lengths and some of the dogs were attempting to find shelter underneath abandoned vehicles or old trailers or sheds around the property. It was by no means sufficient shelter. They were doing the best with what they could reach.”
Other animals were in kennelled and fenced off areas.
Deanna Thompson, executive director of the rescue society, said the pooches were a mixture of huskies, Irish wolf hounds, malamutes and komondors, all living in “horrendous conditions.”
“They were very emaciated,” Thompson said, adding staff could see how skinny the canines were after their matted fur was shaved down.
“We had a couple with broken bones, a broken jaw, lots of wounds — likely fighting for whatever little food they had — and one had a large gaping wound that required surgery on his neck.”
Five of the dogs were wolf-crosses and have been sent to the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary. According to a post on the sanctuary’s Facebook page, the animals are “extremely shy and skittish” and will require “a lot of rehab.”
Of the 141 dogs seized, one was euthanized for untreatable medical conditions. Another puppy died from apparent dehydration.
Thompson said the dogs were very timid and shy of people when they were first taken into the shelter, but they are “coming around wonderfully.”
“They’re really good dogs, learning how to trust, sleeping on dog beds, enjoying their three meals a day,” she added.
Lines said investigators are trying to figure out why the owner had accumulated so many dogs, adding there were no were indications the individual was running an animal rescue organization or an organized breeding operation, although there was uncontrolled inter-breeding among the animals.
“We don’t know if the subject started with a small number and they bred up to the 200. We don’t know if the subject was actively collecting dogs along the way,” he said, adding the owner appeared to have an affinity for larger breed dogs.
On Saturday, the legally mandated 10-day hold period ended, and ownership of the dogs was signed over to the society, which placed the dogs in about a dozen shelter and rescue organizations across the province.
The animals will be spayed, neutered, given medical treatment and rehabilitated before they are put up for adoption. Thompson said she’s optimistic the dogs will recover and find permanent homes.
“It’ll take some time to put the weight on, the surgeries required for the broken bones,” she said. “But they should all recover and do OK.”
Charges against the owner are pending. The investigation continues.