A four-month jail sentence imposed on a Gull Lake man who hoarded dogs in deplorable conditions on his property is being heralded by animal-welfare officials as a promising sign Manitoba's courts are getting tough on animal abusers.
"I think it is an unprecedented sentence here in Manitoba and maybe across Canada," Winnipeg Humane Society CEO Bill McDonald said Wednesday of the jail time handed to Peter Chernecki.
"The consequences are, 'Now, folks, it's jail time (for animal abuse). We catch you, and it's jail time,' " McDonald said, adding the length of the sentence provincial court Judge Carena Roller dished out caught him off guard.
Of 64 dogs seized from the Cherneckis:
had facial wounds or scars
had dental disease
had skin infection and inflammation
had eye infection and inflammation
were ultimately euthanized by officials
Chernecki and his wife, Judith, previously pleaded guilty to seven counts they faced under the Animal Care Act after 64 dogs were seized from their care in July 2010.
Judith Chernecki was not sent to jail but fined $21,500. The couple must also serve two years of probation and are banned from owning or possessing animals for five years -- the longest prohibition allowed at the time they were charged.
"If I were permitted by the act to impose lifetime bans, I would do so, so worried that I am about recidivism," Roller told the couple.
Of the 64 dogs officials seized, 34 had to be euthanized.
Seven others were sent to the Dogtown USA animal rehabilitation centre in Utah because of severe behavioural problems.
Most of the hoarded dogs lived in darkness and squalor, confined in a dank, reeking, 672-square-foot cabin, its rotting floor covered in a "wet paste" of straw, mud and excrement.
Investigators uncovered a nest of live rats that some dogs lived with, court heard. One dog had a major head wound a provincial veterinarian estimated must have happened two weeks before it was rescued, Roller said.
She rejected their lawyer's position the couple were not criminals but animal lovers who got over their heads taking in stray and abandoned dogs.
"The severity of the conditions these 64 companion animals were discovered in... the trauma the animals suffered over such an extended period of time, the attitudes exhibited by these offenders and the lack of insight, coupled with their subsequent collection of 42 cats, all cry for a significant and serious response from this court," Roller said.
Several times in her ruling, Roller cited concerns the couple would reoffend, based on comments they made suggesting they only tried to help the animals and were targets of a vendetta by natural resources officers.
"This obvious disconnect between the reality of the dogs' situation and the Cherneckis' account of their situation is troubling. It suggests a significant lack of insight and/or denial," Roller said. The fact they've gone on to collect the cats is evidence concerns about recidivism are real, she said.
Roller allowed the couple to keep just two of the 42 cats they now have and gave Judith until March 12 to find new homes for the others before animal officials claim them.
Their probation conditions include allowing animal-welfare officers to randomly search their property no more than once a month.