Alberta women guilty of animal abuse charges banned from owning dogs

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — A woman in southern Alberta who made headlines after she was charged with causing distress to more than 200 dogs in her care has been prohibited from owning dogs for the rest of her life.

April Dawn Irving had the dogs seized from her Milk River property in December 2014 and January 2015.

Judge Derek Redman issued the ban Wednesday in Lethbridge provincial court and fined the 59-year-old woman more than $15,000.

Irving had earlier pleaded guilty to four offences under Alberta's Animal Protection Act.

She doesn't have to pay the fines because she spent the equivalent of 192 days in pre-trial custody and the dog-owning ban only applies to Alberta.

Crown prosecutor Tyler Raymond says it was one of the most comprehensive animal distress cases in Canada's history.

According to the agreed statement of facts, some of the dogs were tethered in pairs to chains between one and two metres long.

Some dogs were found near wooden shelters, some lived under a vehicle and some didn't have any shelter at all.

A poorly ventilated van contained puppies, its floor covered in a thick layer of feces and frozen urine.

Irving's trailer, in which she was living, contained a mix of adult female dogs and their puppies, as well as unweaned puppies from other females.

"The trailer was completely filthy with debris, hair, urine and feces," Raymond said. 

"The smell of ammonia and feces in the trailer was very strong, and outside of the trailer was a pile of miscellaneous items and the bodies of several newborn dead dogs. All carcasses were frozen solid."

Irving was initially charged in 2015 with one count of animal cruelty under the Criminal Code and 13 counts under Alberta's Animal Protection Act.

She was released from custody shortly after and was ordered to have a psychological assessment as an outpatient.

Irving never had the assessment, then failed to appear in court in 2016.

The woman reportedly fled to Jamaica, but was arrested in December of last year in Manitoba and returned to Lethbridge.

She had been found guilty of similar offences in 2010 following a trial in Saskatchewan and had been prohibited from having custody or control of more than two dogs for 10 years.

Irving simply moved to Alberta and started over again.

In February, Irving was sent for a court-ordered assessment to determine whether she suffered from a mental disorder. The assessment determined she could be held responsible for the offences she faced.

Her lawyer, Bjoern Wolkmann, had argued in July against a lifetime prohibition against owning dogs. He said Irving was simply naive when she believed she could care for so many.

He said she wasn't running a puppy mill and kept the dogs because she had "too much love" for them.

Redman gave Irving some credit for pleading guilty but said she is incapable of properly caring for dogs and doesn't have the insight to understand the harm she caused them.

"She was far more than merely negligent, she was woefully negligent, she was reckless," Redman said. "She failed them all miserably." (Lethbridge Herald)

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2019.

Delon Shurtz, The Canadian Press