A Swan River man has been spared time behind bars after admitting to a disturbing case of abuse involving dogs and horses he owned.
Walter Goba, 71, pleaded guilty to animal cruelty Monday just as his trial was set to begin. Crown and defence lawyers struck a last-minute plea bargain in which he was given a six-month conditional sentence that allows him to remain free in the community, plus a 10-year ban on owning any pets or livestock.
"He badly failed these animals in the kind of care he delivered," said provincial court Judge Christine Harapiak upon hearing the facts of the case.
Goba was shown leniency because his elderly wife is seriously ill with cancer and he is her primary caregiver, court was told.
Goba was arrested in 2010 after RCMP and animal control officials, acting on complaints from the public, found 25 dogs and 18 horses in various states of neglect.
All of the horses had badly overgrown hooves that would have left them in significant pain, court was told.
"The hooves were in simply terrible condition. Absolutely dreadful," said Crown attorney Janice Barclay.
Several horses were clearly malnourished and had ribs and bones showing. The dogs were also lacking food and water and were found inside a shed filled with feces.
"The conditions were just filthy. The smell was unbelievable," said Barclay. "These are animals that were extremely neglected."
Fortunately, none of the horses or dogs was in life-threatening condition. They were all given extensive medical care and eventually adopted and sold.
Goba is a longtime German shepherd and horse breeder who has been working with animals since 1967, court was told. He has no prior criminal record. Just prior to his arrest, he had sold his property under the condition he'd continue to look after the animals that were left behind.
For years, Swan River residents had been reporting concerns about Goba's animals to the provincial veterinarian's office, the main provincial body charged with monitoring animal welfare.
Those complaints triggered an investigation that led to Goba being charged with three non-criminal offences in 2009, including running an unlicensed kennel, breeding without a licence and keeping animals in a dangerous facility. He eventually pleaded guilty and received several hundred dollars in fines.
Goba was allowed to keep his animals after those bylaw offences, and the situation only got worse.
As part of his conditional sentence, Goba must remain in his home under a 24-hour curfew. His wife currently owns two small Pomeranian dogs that can be kept for as long as she is able to care for them.