Missing woman, wanted in Alta. animal cruelty case, has history of dog neglect in Sask.

A woman at the centre of two of the worst cases of animal neglect on the Prairies is missing and police would like the public's help to find her.

More than 200 dogs seized from April Irving 2 years ago in Milk River, Alta.

A total of 201 dogs were taken from April Irving's property in Milk River, Alta., many of them dirty, matted and skinny. (AARCS/Facebook)

A woman at the centre of two of the worst cases of animal neglect on the Prairies is missing and police are asking the public to help find her.

Over the course of three separate incidents in the past decade — including one in Saskatchewan — 57-year-old April Irving has had more than 300 dogs taken away from her, many of them starving, matted and distressed.

April Irving has outstanding arrest warrants in Alberta for injuring or endangering animals. (Milk River RCMP)

RCMP say there are warrants for Irving's arrest in Alberta and Saskatchewan. She hasn't shown up in court since June 2016.

"It's really disheartening to know that she's not facing the justice system," said Deanna Thompson, executive director with the Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society (AARCS), which dealt with Irving's most recent case.

"I'm really worried that she is somewhere, again, hidden far away from the public eye, doing the same thing right now."

Milk River dogs

When more than 200 dogs were seized from Irving's property in Milk River, Alta., two years ago, rescuers had never seen anything like it.

To think that other dogs could go through this again? Why is this lady allowed to do this? How can she not be stopped?- Katharine Boguski, who adopted one of Irving's dogs

"I've never seen animals so emaciated in my entire life," Thompson said.

"They were covered in filth. The majority of them had to be shaved right down because they hadn't had grooming ever, probably."

One of the dogs rescued from Milk River, Alta. is pictured while being shaved of its matted fur. (AARCS)

Thompson said the dogs were full of internal parasites, many of which rescuers had never encountered before. The dogs were suffering with gastrointestinal issues stemming from prolonged starvation, which plague some of the animals to this day.

Prior conviction in Saskatchewan

Irving had dozens of dogs on her property in Milk River despite a 10-year ban imposed in Saskatchewan that forbid her from owning more than two dogs a time.

That prohibition was the result of a conviction under Saskatchewan's Animal Protection Act, after more than 80 dogs were taken from Irving's property near Foam Lake in 2010, many of them also dirty, matted and skinny.

April Irving was in a Saskatoon court in 2010 after 83 dogs were seized from her property near Foam Lake, Sask. She was eventually found guilty under Saskatchewan's Animal Protection Act. (CBC)

That followed a case from 2007 when dogs were seized from Irving in Fort McMurray, Alta. Charges in that case were dropped.

"It's aggravating, because we do all of this work as SPCAs and humane societies to do the enforcement work, and then to have people just walk away from their charges repeatedly — it's hard to deal with," said Kaley Pugh from Animal Protection Services of Saskatchewan.

Psychiatric testing

Pugh was not surprised to hear that Irving had accumulated more dogs in Alberta as she said Irving has never acknowledged any deficiencies in her care of the dogs.

"She always maintained that she loved her dogs and that she treated them like family," said Pugh, who sat through Irving's trial in Saskatchewan.
Kaley Pugh, executive director of Animal Protection Services of Saskatchewan, says her agency does not have time to track down people wanted on animal cruelty charges because it has 600 to 700 new complaints to investigate each year. (CBC)

"Having that many dogs, it doesn't matter how much you love them or how much work you say you're doing. So I really wasn't surprised that she was over her head again."

In June 2016, Alberta courts referred Irving for psychiatric testing to assess her fitness to stand trial. Then she disappeared.

"I don't know how anyone can truly watch that many animals suffering," Thompson said.

"It was obvious the amount of suffering that they were going through and it's just awful to think that someone doesn't believe that what they were doing was wrong."

Dogs adopted

Two years later, all of the rescued Milk River dogs have been adopted through a massive undertaking by a number of rescue organizations.

"It was amazing to watch the animal welfare community in Alberta come together to care for these animals, and to give them everything that they needed in order to survive and thrive," Thompson said.

Some of the Milk River dogs at the reunion held Oct. 2016. (MIlk River Dogs documentary)

A reunion was held in October 2016, organized by 17-year-old Josiah Albers of Red Deer, Alta., who is making a documentary on the dogs' journey.

"They were some of the most well-behaved dogs that I'd seen," said Albers. "They were just super happy and running around and it was awesome to see."

Issues linger

But for some of the dogs, it has been a long road to recovery.

Gracie, an Irish wolfhound-husky cross, was one year old and just nine kilograms when she was taken from the Milk River property.

She now weighs almost 30 kilograms and has regrown the matted coat that needed to be shaved.

But on the inside, Gracie still has issues.

Gracie was just nine kilograms when she was seized from Milk River, Alta. She now weighs a healthy 30 kilograms. (Katharine Boguski)

"She doesn't trust people, still, a year and a half later," said Katharine Boguski, who adopted Gracie. "She's been to the vet numerous times for issues, mostly digestive issues.

"She has separation anxiety, so when I leave the house, she cries."

Boguski said although Gracie is warming up to her husband, she is the only one who can walk the dog and let her off-leash at the dog park.

Seeking justice

Boguski is furious that the woman allegedly responsible for Gracie's neglect has simply not shown up for her court dates.

"I am so angry," she said. "To think that other dogs could go through this again? Why is this lady allowed to do this? How can she not be stopped?"

Animal protection workers say they are equally frustrated.

"These animals need justice," said Thompson. "And not just for these animals but any other animal that may come into her care."

​RCMP say Irving may be in Alberta, Saskatchewan or British Columbia.


Stefani Langenegger has been with CBC Saskatchewan for more than two decades. She covered provincial politics for more than 15 years, before joining The Morning Edition as host.