A Saskatchewan woman who owned more than 100 cats was found guilty of cruelty to animals.
Animal Welfare Officers (APOs) conducted a search warrant of Dolores LaPlante’s 400-square-foot home in Elrose, Sask, on January 9, 2019. According to a court document, 106 cats, two dogs and a turtle were seized during the search.
About 20 cats were left behind because they were “too stubborn” for officers to catch, Provincial Court Judge Shannon Metivier said in her written decision.
All but one of the confiscated cats were eventually euthanized, Metivier wrote in her October 28 decision.
LaPlante was initially charged with cruelty to animals and neglect under the Criminal Code, but those charges have been suspended.
She was also charged with causing cruelty to animals, which is a non-criminal offense and is at the center of Metivier’s verdict.
In 1996 LaPlante started a cat rescue called “Alley Cats”. She testified that her rescue would take in wild cats, sick cats and other cats that animal rescues would not want to deal with.
LaPlante usually looked after 60 to 80 cats at the same time, and through “big rescues” the number rose significantly to around 150 cats and kittens from 2017 to 2018, Metivier wrote in her decision.
Alley Cats planned a long term project to raise funds and build a cat shelter to provide long term care for displaced cats in the province.
The Crown Prosecutor Tamara Denluck argued that LaPlante caused distress for the animals in her home by keeping them in “unsuitable conditions” and “depriving them of food and water” in order to keep them in good health.
Several witnesses summoned by the Crown provided “consistent evidence” of overcrowding, excessive dirt and clutter, poor hygiene and poor quality, Metivier wrote.
A witness who went to LaPlante’s house to fix a toilet in September 2018 said there were litter boxes in the kitchen cabinets.
The smell of ammonia is “overwhelming” and makes him “physically ill”.
APOs who confiscated the animals in 2019 say the air quality left them with persistent respiratory and skin symptoms.
The veterinarian Dr. Jordan Woodsworth participated in the search warrant enforcement in 2019, testifying that the house had ammonia levels of 25 parts per million (ppm).
“(25 ppm) is a high number that makes it difficult to breathe and can cause watery eye and chest tightness problems if exposed for more than eight hours,” Woodsworth told the courtroom.
Woodsworth testified that even prolonged exposure to ammonia concentrations above 5 ppm damages the respiratory tract, eyes and skin of animals.
Woodsworth says she also heard sneezes and coughs and “was able to determine” that the cats were in “various health conditions.” She was also concerned about the overcrowding of the cats, noting that the cats experience high levels of anxiety and stress due to the inability to escape conflict.
She also had concerns about the cats’ access to fresh food and water, noting that the animals would need about 30 liters of water a day, Metivier wrote.
The court also heard that while some cats were dehydrated, the cause was due to illness rather than neglect.
LaPlante denied the animals were in need, admitting that their home was dirty and that there were “many” cats, but the animals were “happy, well cared for and given the opportunity to be adopted for a better life”.
LaPlante says she focused on providing food and medical care for the cats through cleaning and hygiene, and taking steps to isolate the cats to prevent the spread of disease.
She also suggested that the “chaos” in her home was temporary. However, based on photos submitted as evidence, Metivier wrote that “the extent of the filth” did not appear suddenly, but rather accumulated over time.
LaPlante called the fact that APOs confiscated the cats from their home “hideous” and claimed that they were kept in a way that exposed them to disease, which resulted in 105 of the cats being euthanized.
LaPlante described themselves as “enthusiastic foster parents”.
Judge Shannon Metivier told the courtroom, “Having a big heart is not a defense,” but having over 100 cats in a 400-square-foot home is “undoubtedly too much.”
The Crown called for a $ 5,000 fine on LaPlante and a life-long ban on animal ownership.
Metivier settled on a $ 400 fine and decided that LaPlante can have up to two dogs and three cats at a time.
LaPlante also found herself in a courtroom nearly a decade ago when she was accused of animal neglect after 70 cats were removed from her home.
She pleaded guilty in 2013 and was fined $ 250 but was still allowed to keep animals in her care.