To kill or not to kill? OSPCA seeks to destroy 21 alleged fighting dogs

Twenty-one alleged fighting dogs sit in a kennel in an undisclosed location somewhere in Ontario, where they'll remain until a court decides whether they live or die.

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The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has filed an application in a court in Chatham, Ont., to destroy the animals, which they recently seized after a raid on an alleged dogfighting ring.

Details of the allegations are part of an almost 100-page document filed by the society on Jan. 16. There is also a related criminal case that remains in its early stages, where four people face more than 300 charges related to animal cruelty and weapons offences.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

And that's the problem for the defence lawyer representing the four accused. Ken Marley is now in the rare position of having to show his cards in a different but related case to fight the application brought by the OSPCA.

"So we either play our hand now and respond to the application and then the Crown knows what your defence is at trial, or alternatively we do nothing and let the dogs be destroyed and then play your hand at the trial," he said in an interview.

John Jacob Robert, Kim Thu Thi Robert, Michel Conrad Gagnon are named in the OSPCA application, which is a case falling under the provincial offences act. The Roberts' son, John Jr., is also named in the criminal case.

Marley said he'll ask the court at the next appearance on March 10 to delay the OSPCA application until after the conclusion of the criminal case.

"Why now? Why does the OSPCA want to destroy these dogs before anything has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt in court?" Marley asked.

The OSPCA refuses to answer that question. The society has already euthanized three dogs for medical reasons, something that troubles Marley.

"It's like the OSPCA has taken the law into their own hands and destroyed three of the dogs before they even sought a court order."

Society Insp. Brad Dewar recently told The Canadian Press they have the power under the OSPCA act to euthanize a dog for medical reasons if recommended by a veterinarian.

According to an affidavit filed in court by Dewar, the investigation began last June when someone called Chatham-Kent police about possible "fighting dogs" at a rural property in southwestern Ontario.

That person told police that "none of the neighbours want to get involved."

Const. Kevin Brown went to the sprawling rural property that same day.

Once on the property, Dewar wrote in his affidavit, Brown saw "four pitbull-looking dogs chained to stakes" and heard other dogs barking from the back of the property. He eventually met the owner of the property and cautioned him about the barking.

Brown then heard from another informant who told him "barking from the dogs could be heard coming from the property and was most often heard on weekends and holidays."

In September, the police reached out to the OSPCA for help, saying they'd had various reports of a possible dogfighting ring on the property dating back to 2011.

Last Oct. 9, Dewar, OSPCA officials, veterinarian Bruce Robertson and Chatham-Kent police officers executed three search warrants at the property, the court documents say.

In a building at the back of the property, they found a sign on a set of double doors reading "Dirty White Boy Kennels." Behind those doors they found "at least 15 treadmills."

"Some of the treadmills were human treadmills which appeared to be converted to be able to be used for dogs, as there were pieces of wood that went across the handle area with chains with clasps attached to them," the documents say.

The inspectors seized more than 200 items that day, including medical kits with injectable solutions and vitamin supplements, suture and skin staple kits, syringes and surgical tools; lists of names of dogs, training and weight schedules; a training kit with weights, muzzles, breaking sticks and harnesses "used for weight training" and "equipment used in the breeding of dogs, known as a breeding stand or a 'rape stand."'

"All of the dogs were tethered to large metal chains which were attached to metal stakes in the ground" and "positioned so they were unable to reach one another."

Robertson said he also found anabolic steroids, according to a letter filed as part of the OSCPA's application to the court.

The OSPCA seized 31 dogs that day. All of them were said to be "prohibited pitbulls under the Dog Owners' Liability Act."

A visual inspection, Robertson wrote, "demonstrated that the majority of the adult dogs had severe scarring consistent with dog fighting. These scars were primarily located on the head, neck and forelimbs of the dogs."

Robertson said they found two signed "fight contracts" for the following day, Oct. 10, 2015.

"The contracted dog was identified as 'Heavy' and the calendar in the kennel noted that October 10, 2015 was 'D-Day' for 'Heavy,"' Robertson wrote in his letter.

Marley said he didn't want to litigate the case in the media, but his hand has been forced.

"My clients have an answer to many of the allegations made about the conditions of the dogs, the purpose for which they were found and the type of housing they were in -- we have answers to all of that," he said.

On Nov. 15, officials from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals came to Canada to evaluate the dogs' behaviour, according to the OSPCA's application.

Marley said the dogs have not been independently examined, which is something he will push the court for before it determines their fate.

"My own view is it might be a bit of a Pyrrhic victory if at the end of the day, the charges are dismissed but all of the dogs that were seized from my clients have been destroyed," Marley said.

A month after the U.S. officials examined the dogs, three were euthanized for medical and behavioural reasons, the documents say.

The 21 remaining dogs haven't received any attempts at behavioural rehabilitation, according to the OSPCA. For now, they await their fate in a state of purgatory, alone in separate enclosures.


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