Four years after originally being charged, April Irving offered guilty pleas Wednesday (July 24) to four counts under Alberta’s Animal Protection Act.

Those charges are in regard to causing animals to be in distress. Irving will remain out on bail until her sentencing date on Sept. 30 in Lethbridge Provincial Court.

The 59-year old was charged by the Alberta SPCA back in 2015. According to an agreed statement of facts read aloud in court on Wednesday (July 24), a total of 211 dogs were involved, including Komondor, Husky, Pyrenese/Maremma, Irish Wolfhound and wolf or wolf hybrid breeds. All of the animals, except for one, were taken from a rural property near Milk River between Dec. 23, 2014 and Jan. 29, 2015.

In 2013, Irving had also been convicted for similar offences in Saskatchewan, and was ordered to not have custody of any more than two animals for a period of ten years in that province.

On Dec. 18, 2014, Irving surrendered a dog to a vet clinic, located just east of Lethbridge, that was suffering from a “quite large and old” vaginal prolapse, malnourishment and moderate distress. The female Husky scored only a two out of nine using the Royal Canin Body Condition Score method, for which an optimal score for a healthy dog is a five out of nine. The dog was ultimately euthanised due to its failing health.

A peace officer then attended the rural property where Irving was living in a fifth wheel trailer on Dec. 9 to conduct a welfare check. There he found 40 to 50 dogs all living without sufficient food, water or shelter. Irving was issued a time-sensitive warning to improve the living conditions and seek medical care for the animals that needed it.

On Dec. 16, Irving called the peace officer, agreeing to surrender 60 dogs. A team of SCPA officers, animal rescue volunteers and a veterinarian carried out the seizure on Dec. 23, noting a majority of the dogs were in moderate to extreme distress.

A warrant was granted on Jan. 12, 2015 to seize the remaining 140 living dogs and five deceased puppies. During the seizure, it was noted that most dogs were tethered with three to six foot chains, one pen contained several large puppies from different litters and another pen housed a female with ten puppies from different litters. Six puppies were also found in a poorly ventilated van with a thick layer of feces and urine covering the floor.

There were several females in Irving’s trailer with their puppies, as well, which was described as “completely filthy.” Outside the trailer were the frozen carcasses of several newborn puppies.

A veterinary examination found several dogs suffered wounds on their legs, face, head, neck and body, others showed neurological signs, one who had its leg amputated was left outside with the incision open and bleeding and two were so dehydrated that they were too weak to stand. In the vet’s opinion, “the severity of neglect and animal distress is too difficult to describe in words.”

A Milk River RCMP officer went back to Irving’s trailer on Jan. 28 to conduct a welfare check, noting that no dogs were left on the property 15 days prior when the large seizure happened. He was advised by the property owner that Irving had not been there for 14 days.

During a subsequent search of the property, the officer found a dead dog on top of a shelter and three other dogs deceased inside the shelter. A fifth deceased dog was found on top of the television inside the fifth wheel trailer. All five were taken to a local vet clinic for post-mortem evaluations, which concluded that they were not given enough food or care to “sustain the most basic levels of health and wellness”.

“The Crown is satisfied that she [Irving] has accepted responsibility for what was one of the most comprehensive and voluminous cases of animal distress in this country’s history,” Crown Prosecutor Tyler Raymond told local media following the guilty pleas on Wednesday (July 24).

Raymond adds that the Animal Protection Act does not allow for any term of imprisonment, and sentencing is limited to fines and orders to prohibit Irving from owning animals.

The Crown and defence lawyer Bjoern Wolkmann are expected to differ on their sentencing submissions, which will be provided in writing to Judge Derek Redman by Sept. 9.