Calgary

April Dawn Irving's history of animal neglect 'frustrating,' says SPCA official

A top SPCA official in Saskatchewan says she is frustrated that a woman who was convicted for animal neglect in that province two years ago is making headlines again for allegedly hoarding 201 badly suffering dogs on an acreage near Milk River, Alta.

'She did not ever admit there was anything wrong with her animals,' Kaley Pugh tells Calgary Eyeopener

A woman accused by the SPCA of hoarding 201 dogs on an acreage near Milk River, Alta., has a past conviction for animal neglect in Saskatchewan. (Red Deer SPCA/Facebook)

A top SPCA official in Saskatchewan says she is frustrated that a woman who was convicted for animal neglect in that province two years ago is making headlines again for allegedly hoarding 201 badly suffering dogs on an acreage near Milk River, Alta.

The animals were seized recently from April Dawn Irving, 55, in the largest removal of dogs in Alberta's history. No charges have yet been laid, but SPCA officials say they plan to do so soon.

Kaley Pugh, the manager of animal protection services with the Saskatchewan SPCA, attended Irving's previous animal neglect trial in that province.

The Calgary Eyeopener's David Gray spoke with Pugh Friday morning. What follows is an edited transcript of that interview:

David Gray (DG): What is April Irving's history with the SPCA in Saskatchewan?

Kaley Pugh (KP): In 2010, we seized 82 dogs from her after an approximately year-long investigation. Those dogs were found in conditions that required their seizure to relieve them of their distress.

They didn't have adequate shelter, quite a number of them were quite thin, there were problems with the food and water available to the dogs as well.

DG: Was she convicted under the Criminal Code?

KP: She was convicted under the provincial animal protection act. Criminal Code charges were laid, but she was found not guilty on those ones.

DG: What was the judge's reason for the ruling on that, do you remember?

KP: It hinged on the wilfulness of her actions.

DG: Why, if she's prohibited in one province, would that not apply in another province?

KP: I can't explain the exact legal reason for that, but it only applies in the jurisdiction where the charges were applied.

DG: So what's it like for you to see a repeat offender show up in another province?

KP: It's very frustrating. I wish I could say this is the only time we've heard of this happening, but unfortunately it's not.

We've had people from other provinces move here and re-offend, we've had people from Saskatchewan move other places. And it's disheartening to see all the hard work, just to have animals in distress again. In similar situations, just in a different province, it's very frustrating.

DG: It's one thing to apply the law and regulations, another to enforce it. Even if April had remained in Saskatchewan, how would you monitor and enforce the order that she not own more than two dogs?

KP: It can be difficult, especially if people are moving around and not providing their address as they are required to do. But generally members of the community are pretty good about keeping an eye on people.

And if somebody shows up in the community and they find out that this person shouldn't be owning animals, they'll call and let us know.

And there's certain people that if you have a fairly good feeling that they're going to be breaching their prohibitions, we do have capability of monitoring those sorts of situations. But it's always a resource challenge to do that.

DG: What do we know about people who hoard animals?

KP: One of the traits of hoarding is not necessarily seeing what you're doing to the animals and having a twisted perspective of what's actually going on. I would say from attending the trial in Saskatchewan, that's one of the things that she was fairly consistent about.

She did not ever admit there was anything wrong with her animals here, despite fairly clear evidence that there was.

Obviously, she was convicted here. I would suspect that there are certainly mental health issues in these sorts of cases.

DG: We're told April Irving is now suing the Alberta SPCA and wants her animals returned. What do you make of that?

KP: It's not uncommon, people try that with us as well. It's one of the avenues that they have to get the animals back.

And especially when people don't seem to have any understanding that the animals were in distress, they quite often feel that their rights were violated when the animals were removed.

I believe she actually did a similar thing in Saskatchewan, and we've had several people do that here. It's frustrating. It's a waste of resources to be frank, for the courts and for the SPCA involved.

But I suppose people have the right to use the system when they feel they've been wronged.

DG: This situation has put a strain on the SPCA and the animal shelter system in this part of the province — 200 dogs coming in — you can imagine what that's like. What's the hope for the future of these animals?

KP: I think things are definitely looking up for them now. It's my understanding that they are in situations where they are receiving good care.

And I would hope that most of the dogs will be rehabilitated and placed into proper homes and situations that will be much better for them in the long term.

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