'It's time': Advocates call for change after Milk River Dogs arrest

Deanna Thompson says she and her fellow animal rescuers were excited when they heard the news of April Irving's recent arrest.

Deanna Thompson says officials should follow up on provincial bans to protect animals

April Dawn Irving was arrested Wednesday in Manitoba. She's currently waiting to be returned to Alberta to face charges. (Milk River RCMP/AARCS)

Deanna Thompson, Executive Director of the Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society, said her staff members were excited when they heard the news of April Irving's recent arrest stemming from when she had 201 dogs seized in 2014.

Irving is accused of dog hoarding and animal cruelty, dating back to 2014, when officials seized more than 200 dogs from her property in Milk River, Alta. 

She failed to show up to her court dates in Lethbridge in 2016 and was arrested Jan. 16 in Manitoba.

"We're just really hoping and praying that the justice system will be able to stop her from having animals," said Thompson. "And we're really appreciative of the RCMP for laying criminal charges that will be federal."

Alberta RCMP confirmed Irving will be transported from Manitoba to Alberta later this week. Court dates for Irving will be set when she is back in the province, Const. Mike Hibbs said.

Thompson said her organization will be watching Irving's court case closely. They hope she makes it back to Alberta so they can attend her court appearances.

"I really do hope that we will see justice for these animals," Thompson said. "And now it's time."

History of animal hoarding

Irving has a history of animal hoarding. In 2010, she had more than 80 dogs seized from her property near Foam Lake, Sask. This resulted in a 10-year ban preventing her from owning more than two dogs at a time.

Gracie weighed 9 kg when she was taken into care from April Irving's property in Milk River, Alberta. (AARCS)

Kaley Pugh, former executive director of Animal Protection Services of Saskatchewan, said she attended most of Irving's court dates for the Foam Lake case.

Pugh said the case was frustrating as she knew the 10-year ban would only apply in Saskatchewan.

"People moving from one province to the next is actually quite common," Pugh said. "We've had quite a few cases in Saskatchewan of people that have been convicted after previous issues in Alberta or previous issues in Manitoba." 

Thompson agreed, and said that while the bans are great, she wants to see check-ups to make sure people are complying.

"We need to be able to ensure that these people don't have animals," she said. "Just because they have a ban doesn't mean that they're not going to have animals in their care."

Milk River dogs 4 years later

In Alberta, all 201 dogs were adopted out after the Milk River seizure. Thompson said her organization and others throughout Alberta and British Columbia took in the animals to rehabilitiate and rehome them.

"We're just really happy that the animals that were rescued are doing well in their new homes," she said. "Amazing to see their transformations."

Thompson said she hopes the case of April Irving can be an example to others.

"I think people need to realize that animals are sentient beings and that they are protected, although not well, under the law," Thompson said. "It's one of the worst cases of neglect and abuse we've ever seen, and I think as a society, we don't condone that behaviour, so we have to be able to set a precedent that this will not be something that we will put up with."

In Saskatchewan, Pugh said she is looking towards the legal system for future change. 

"What I would really love to see would be that prosecutors and judges and whatnot are more comfortable using the Criminal Code animal cruelty provisions," she said. "And then giving a prohibition to somebody that is going to apply across the country."