A man from Gull Lake, Man., has been sentenced to four months in custody while his wife has been fined in what's been called one of the worst cases of animal hoarding in the province's history.

Peter and Judith Chernecki, who pleaded guilty in April 2013 to seven counts under the Animal Care Act, received their sentences on Wednesday afternoon.

Seized dogs

One of 64 dogs that were seized in July 2010 from Peter and Judith Chernecki's Gull Lake property and taken to the Winnipeg Humane Society. This dog had its matted and feces-knotted fur shaved down. (Megan Benedictson/CBC)

Peter Chernecki was sentenced to four months in custody, while Judith Chernecki was fined $21,500.

The couple has been banned from owning animals for five years. As well, the Cherneckis have been given two weeks to find homes for the animals they currently have, including more than 40 cats.

They were permitted to keep two cats, however.

The charges stem from the discovery in July 2010 of dozens of abused and malnourished dogs at the couple's property in Gull Lake, about 90 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

The initial number of dogs reported was 61, but that was later went up to 64.

Many of the animals were wounded, covered in feces and severely malnourished.

At least 34 of the dogs had to be euthanized after they were seized because they were in such poor condition.

The dogs were kept in two buildings with no windows and were never allowed outside, according to the Winnipeg Humane Society.

The Cherneckis have maintained that they were trying to help out stray animals that had been abandoned at a local landfill. They insisted that the dogs were loved and cared for.

The Crown sought thousands of dollars in fines and a five-year ban on owning animals for the couple, as well as four months in custody for Peter Chernecki.

They also wanted to see the couple cover the costs related to caring for the seized dogs.

The couple's lawyer had asked for probation.

The Cherneckis were supposed to be sentenced on Feb. 6, but their lawyer requested more time and the hearing was put over until Wednesday.

Harsh sentence sends a message

Colleen Marion, Companion Animal Welfare Veterinarian with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, said she was pleased with the sentence. 

"This is the harshest sentence that we have had ... to date, in regards to jail time," she said. "I am satisfied that we got the maximum prohibition of animal ownership, minus two cats, for a five year period."

Other animal welfare advocates, such as Bill McDonald of the Winnipeg Humane Society, praised the sentence as well. McDonald said it's about time a judge recognized how serious animal abuse is.

"I was there both nights when the 64 dogs came in," he said. "And I agree with the provincial veterinarian Dr. Marion.
This is the worst case of animal hoarding that I have seen in my eight years of [being] CEO of the Winnipeg Humane Society."

He said the sentence sets a new standard.

"I think the sentence is significant in setting the bar in our province and across the country for animal abuse cases," he said. 

But the couple's lawyer, Jay Prober, said he's disappointed.

"The Cherneckis hearts' were in the right place," he said. "But, it seems that their minds weren't. So, in my view, it's a little harsh and a little unfair." 

The judge said a major concern was that the couple would mistreat other animals in the future. McDonald said that concerns him, too, but he also feels the sentence sends a message. 

"This is serious stuff," he said. "And you are going to suffer jail time if you do these sorts of things, like the Cherneckis did."