'Big heart is not a defence': Judge finds Sask. woman with 100-plus cats guilty of animal distress

·3 min read
More than 100 animals, mostly cats, were seized from Dolores LaPlante's home in Elrose in January 2019. Some cats were moved to animal shelters and 66 were euthanized. (Submitted by Bill Thorn - image credit)
More than 100 animals, mostly cats, were seized from Dolores LaPlante's home in Elrose in January 2019. Some cats were moved to animal shelters and 66 were euthanized. (Submitted by Bill Thorn - image credit)

There were an excessive number of cats living in a Saskatchewan woman's house, Chief Judge Shannon Metivier wrote in her Provincial Court decision on Oct. 28 that found the cat owner guilty of animal distress.

In January 2019, officials from Animal Protection Services of Saskatchewan searched the 400-square foot home of Dolores LaPlante, which also operated as a non-profit rescue called Alley Cats, and found it overcrowded and in disarray.

They apprehended 106 cats, two dogs and a turtle, leaving about 20 cats behind because they couldn't catch them.

In a Facebook post on Nov. 3, the animal protection service called it a "cautionary tale of unethical animal rescue practices."

"Local and provincial government need to demonstrate leadership and engage the community ... to develop accessible spay/neuter solutions," it said. "Animal welfare is everyone's responsibility."

According to a comment from Animal Protection Services on their Facebook, 14 of LaPlante's cats were given to animal shelters in Saskatchewan, another 24 to shelters in Alberta, two were given back to their original owners and the remaining 66 were euthanized.

The home's conditions

Animal protection officers described the inside of the home as "filthy" with air quality so poor it caused lingering respiratory and skin symptoms. The ammonia levels read above 25 parts per million (ppm), they had said according to the court decision.

An expert testimonial from a witness only referred to in the decision as Dr. Woodsworth said ammonia levels are associated with the amount of feces and urine in the area. She noted over time levels over five ppm will affect the skin, eyes and respiratory systems of animals.

She said that the air quality, overcrowding, inadequate food and water and poor sanitation was concerning. Only about 20 to 25 cats could reasonably fit in the space, Woodsworth said.

LaPlante's response

LaPlante suggested in court that some of the cluttered and dirty conditions were because she was cleaning kennels in the basement and a sudden plumbing issue in her house that happened the night before the search. She argued it was only a temporary issue, according to court records.

The judge wrote in her decision that photos of the home and witness testimony told a different story and that the house would have developed to its current state over time.

Kathy Fitzpatrick/CBC
Kathy Fitzpatrick/CBC

While agreeing that her house was in disarray, LaPlante justified it by explaining she focused on rescuing cats and chose to live in that environment, according to Metivier's decision.

"However, the Act requires more of a person that owns an animal or has custody and control of an animal than providing food and medical care; animals must also be kept in a reasonably sanitary environment," Metivier said.

The Crown prosecutor was asking the court levy a $5,000 fine and a lifetime prohibition from owning all animals.

Instead, the court ordered LaPlante pay a $400 fine for the animals under distress in her care and she is now restricted from owning more than two dogs and three cats, according to Animal Protection Services.

"Having a big heart is not a defence under the Act," the judge wrote. "Having over 100 cats in a 400-square foot house is undoubtedly too many."

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