CALGARY — She’s had a total of 319 dogs seized from her care over the past eight years, in three separate raids spanning two different provinces.
The list of injuries and ailments has included broken bones, starvation, parasites and fur so badly matted the dog in question couldn’t defecate.
A few of the animals were beyond saving, including two dogs vets were forced to euthanize following recent raids on a rural property in southern Alberta, and another four puppies found dead on the same Milk River, Alta., farm.
April Irving is without a doubt one of the worst pet owners Canada has ever seen — and yet, with a tradition of soft sentences for animal abuse and no way to keep track of those convicted, it’s very likely she’ll soon own a hoard of dogs again.
“Oh, my god. I’m so sorry — yes, we’ve obviously dealt with her before.”
That’s how Tricia McAuley took the awful news of yet another alleged neglect case: she’s a spokesman for the Saskatoon SPCA, which helped to handle the last dog disaster linked to Irving.
That was in 2010, when officers from the Saskatchewan SPCA raided a property near the town of Leslie, east of Saskatoon, and seized 82 dogs in desperate need of medical attention and human contact, with some of the animals cowering at the sight of toys or a food dish.
Irving, not surprisingly, denied any wrongdoing, telling reporters, “My dogs are spoiled rotten.”
But a Saskatchewan court ruled the only thing rotten was Irving’s care of the dogs, which were all eventually rehabilitated and adopted out.
Charged under Saskatchewan’s Animal Protection Act, Irving was eventually found guilty of non-criminal neglect and fined $5,000, the highest penalty possible at the time.
She was also forbidden from owning more than two dogs at a time for a decade — a restriction with absolutely no teeth in Alberta, where she now lives.
“How would you stop someone like this? I have no idea, unless the legislation came down really hard and there was a national database to keep track of them,” said Sue Humphreys, a rescue co-ordinator with the Irish Wolfhound Club of Canada.
The wolfhound club has been involved with all three of Irving’s clashes with animal protection officers, including a 2007 raid with saw the Fort McMurray, Alta., SPCA seizing 36 huskies and wolfhounds from a northern Alberta kennel run by Irving.
Prior to the seizure, Irving had bragged to a Fort McMurray Today reporter that her kennel business, called Doggie Daycare and Nights Too!, was run on a philosophy of providing ample attention to each individual animal.
“I won’t take more dogs than I am comfortable with,” she said.
Comfortable apparently means dealing with a couple hundred dogs at once.
Alberta SPCA officers have removed a total of 201 neglected animals from the Milk River farm where Irving was living, and she is expected to face charges of neglect.
One of the agencies left to care for the hoard is Calgary-based AARCS, where executive director Deanna Thompson described it was one of the worst cases she has ever seen.
Knowing that the suspect has been convicted of mistreating animals before just makes it more frustrating, said Thompson.
“It’s very disturbing to know a person can (allegedly) do this on more than one occasion,” she said. “That’s the way the laws are unfortunately.”
It’s not that the law doesn’t provide for harsh sentences — Alberta’s Animal Protection Act sets the maximum penalty for animal neglect at $20,000, along with restrictions on owning pets, while the Criminal Code of Canada states anyone causing unnecessary pain and suffering to animal faces up to a $10,000 fine and a maximum of five years in jail.
It sounds fierce, but the reality has been much softer penalties, even when the abuse borders on sadism, such as the 17 months given to a Vancouver man in 2013, after he was found guilty of torturing cats and filming their suffering.
Even if convicted of neglecting the dogs from Milk River, there’s little chance of Irving serving time in jail, and nothing to stop her from establishing a new hoard of mutts somewhere else.
Dog ownership, sadly, is as simple as answering a classified ad.