Nova Scotia

N.S. woman faces animal cruelty charges as she appeals seizure of 35 dogs

A Kings County, N.S., woman is facing two charges of animal cruelty. The Nova Scotia SPCA announced the charges Monday as Karin Robertson, 57, appealed the seizure of her 35 dogs.

Karin Robertson says she 'worked really hard' to comply with SPCA orders

Karin Robertson speaks to media after her appeal hearing on Dec. 30. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

A Kings County, N.S., woman is facing two charges of animal cruelty.

The Nova Scotia SPCA announced the charges Monday as Karin Robertson, 57, appealed the seizure of her 35 dogs.

The SPCA said this is one of the largest dog seizures in the province's history. More than 150 people showed up in support of the SPCA at Monday's appeal hearing.

Thirty-five Jack Russell terriers and border collies were seized from Robertson's home near Wolfville on Dec. 10.

Robertson appealed under the new Nova Scotia Animal Protection Act.

While the SPCA said the dogs were living in unsanitary conditions, Robertson said she tried to comply with the orders.

"I am a professional and not a puppy mill, as alleged by the SPCA," she told the board.

80 dogs on the property

In September, the SPCA began issuing compliance orders after a tip from the public.

Several witnesses for the SPCA, including dog trainers, veterinarians, a special constable and the provincial inspector, described a home where close to 80 dogs lived in filthy conditions.

It's unclear where 45 of the dogs ended up, but some may be in foster care.

Witnesses described a stench of urine that hurt the lungs, walls chewed by rats and dogs and dogs living in confined conditions, such as stacked crates.

They saw no leashes and did not believe the dogs had easy access to clean water — something Robertson denied.

Many of the dogs were described to have serious behaviour issues, including anxiety, extreme fear of humans and excessive chewing. They were also described as being soaked in urine, having matted fur, dental issues and worms.

Jo-Anne Landsburg is the chief provincial inspector for the Nova Scotia SPCA. (Paul Poirier)

"It's always our goal to work with an individual and especially in a situation like this, we want to gain compliance, educate them, bring them to a point where all the animals are doing well," said Jo-Anne Landsburg, the chief provincial inspector.

"Unfortunately this wasn't the case in this situation, so we were left with no choice but to seize the animals in the end."

At the hearing, many members of the public became emotional when pictures and videos of the animals were shown.

The crowd was restless throughout the appeal, yelling out comments and clapping for the SPCA. At one point during Robertson's presentation, someone yelled out, "You're an idiot, lady."

One of the border collies that was seized from a property near Wolfville on Dec. 10. (Nova Scotia SPCA — Enforcement/Facebook)

Many people there were part of a Facebook group for people who had bought dogs from Robertson, including Dee Hinson.

She bought a Jack Russell two years ago and had difficulty getting the dog properly registered through Robertson.

"I think breeding on the scale which was done in this particular case is not conducive to a puppy's future welfare, either psychological or physical," Hinson said.

"We hope not to see something like this repeated in the future."

'My dogs have always come first'

Robertson admitted several times during the appeal that she had too many dogs at Nerida Kennel at one point.

She said the Facebook group and online complaints hampered her business, meaning she was unable to sell puppies. She said suddenly had more dogs than she could handle.

"That's when I reached out to the SPCA for some help," she told media after the appeal hearing.

"They were always fed, they were always well cared for and well loved, but I was getting tired because it was a lot of work. But my dogs have always come first."

Robertson accused the SPCA of slander and defamation throughout the hearing, but was told by the board that it was outside of its scope.

The youngest puppies that were seized have joined the SPCA Working On Our Future (WOOF) program, which pairs them up with inmates. (Nova Scotia SPCA — Dartmouth Shelter/Facebook)

She also said she believes the condition of the dogs is because of the trauma from being seized and not because of her care.

"My dogs were very comfortable, very relaxed and very happy in my home, which the SPCA didn't witness because they were upset when they were there," she said in an interview.

Four friends of Robertson told the board they didn't notice any signs of aggression or behavioural issues in the dogs and believed Robertson to be a responsible breeder.

Robertson said she's been missing her dogs and that Monday was "a long day."

"The SPCA had a seasoned lawyer and I didn't. But I did present a very nice, good presentation," she said.

"So I'm glad I was able to share my story and give my evidence and proof that I complied that my dogs were happy and healthy at my place."

Decision on Friday

Sandra Flemming, the director of animal care for the Nova Scotia SPCA, said if the appeal is denied, she's worried about the resources required and specialized homes that will be needed to care for the animals.

"They're not very socialized dogs, they have issues with meeting new people, socializing in new environments because the environment they did live in was very limited in terms of what they were exposed to," she said.

The appeal was heard by three of the five Animal Welfare Appeal Board members. It is expected to have a decision on Friday.

Robertson is facing charges of failing to comply with orders in relation to bringing the environment of the animals up to minimum standards and for causing an animal to be in distress through her actions.

She is scheduled to appear in Kentville provincial court on Jan. 21.