Milk River Dogs documentary a story of redemption, resilience

Josiah Albers, a 17-year-old from Red Deer, Alta. joined CBC Radio's Blue Sky on Tuesday to talk about the Milk River dogs, which were seized from April Irving two years ago.

201 dogs were seized from April Irving in Alta., not long after 83 were seized from her in Sask.

The documentary is a story of redemption and resilience on the part of the dogs which were seized from April Irving in Milk River, Alta. (Submitted by April Irving)

Josiah Albers remembers 12 of the Milk River dogs, seized from animal hoarder April Irving, when they were re-homed from the kennel he was working with. 

"We saw those absolutely scared and emaciated dogs come back as healthy and happy dogs and that transition is what inspired me to make this movie," Albers told CBC Radio's Blue Sky on Tuesday afternoon. 

The 17-year-old Red Deer, Alta. filmmaker's time in the kennel saw those animals adopted out, come back for different services the kennel offered and the transformation of the dogs. Albers, who is producing the documentary, said he wants the story to be one of redemption. 

"There's a lot of opportunity in this story to sort of make it a bashing of the person who did all this, April Irving, ... but what I wanted to highlight instead of that is the redemptive quality of these dogs and their resilience in spite of adversity," Albers said.
April Irving has outstanding arrest warrants in Alberta for injuring or endangering animals contrary to Section 445.1 of the Criminal Code. (Milk River RCMP)

Irving has had dogs seized from her three separate times, twice in Alberta and once in Saskatchewan.

The Saskatchewan incident, which saw 83 dogs seized from Irving while she was living in Foam Lake saw her slapped with a 10-year ban, prohibiting her from owning more than two dogs at a time. However, it was only in effect in Saskatchewan, not Alberta where Irving moved. 

The dogs were in "just terrible condition" when they were first taken into care, Albers said. 

"You couldn't even see that emaciation because of how matted their fur was. It was just really bad," he said. "Once they shaved down all the fur, you could see how skin and bones they were."

Through the love and support of a community caring for the dogs, they slowly got better, Albers said.

"It required a lot of time and a lot of patience and a lot of understanding on the part of the owner," he said.

The documentary catches up with a number of the dogs in their new homes, across Alberta, and the progress they've made.

Norman, when he was first rescued and now, in his new home. (Milk River Dogs documentary)

"So many of them are just absolutely at the peak of what a dog can be now. Some are still a little nervous around people and some still haven't quite gotten over what they've been through," he said.

One dog in particular which stood out for Albers, named Norman, was adopted by a couple who have fostered more than 60 dogs, he added.

"The attitude and just how calm that dog was amongst people and just how happy he was really, really stood out to me."

The lesson to be learned comes from the dogs, Albers said. Their hardships make it easy not to trust the people who have adopted them.

"Instead they choose to wake up every day and decide 'today's a good day' and go about it with that assumption and that optimism," he said.

Albers hopes the documentary raises awareness and bring about changes to ensure nothing like the Irving abuse cases happens again. 

With files from Blue Sky