"Love just isn't enough," Crown argues in animal neglect case

By Josh Hall (Twitter: @Vancan19)
February 1, 2019 - 8:50pm Updated: February 2, 2019 - 8:06am

 

Warning: Some details of this story may be disturbing to readers.

A couple from east-central Alberta found guilty of neglecting their animals so poorly that some of them died will be sentenced in April.

Garnet and Joann Schultz, who own a 30-acre plot of land near the Hamlet of Tees, listened for three hours in a Red Deer courtroom Friday as the Crown and defence made their final arguments to Provincial Court Judge Bart Rosborough.

The Schultzes originally pleaded not guilty to charges under the Animal Protection Act, but after it was determined evidence from a search of the property was admissible, that plea changed.

Court heard Friday from veterinarian and Crown witness Dr. Patrick Burrage that it was the ninth day of that month when he attended the property on Range Road 235 for the first time.

Burrage, a vet for 30 years who specializes in livestock, testified that, “This is number one on the list of bad farms. These were the worst conditions I’ve ever seen; conditions that could’ve been managed earlier. This is a haunting one.”

There were 105 animals on the property when Burrage first arrived. He described the day as a very cold one, adding there were a lot of animals confined to a very small area.

One calf, no older than two weeks, he surmised, was eating at the bedding of other animals. Normally, Burrage said, it would be getting milk from its mother until six-weeks-old, but no cow on the property could be identified as milk-producing.

Burrage also noted that various bovines displayed hair loss, which he admitted can be caused by cold weather. However, he went on, when that does occur, extra nutrition is needed. In this case, that clearly wasn’t provided, he said, because the animals had gone so long without it, they’d developed lice and parasaites and ended up self-harming to scratch their itches.

Additionally, it was documented that some miniature horses and donkeys had severe hoof issues. Burrage said they had “angular limb deformities” which caused them to walk on the sides of their feet.

On Jan. 9, Burrage walked away from the farm having given a number of recommendations to the Schultzes, namely coming up with the proper nutrition for the animals, and finding a way to segregate them.

On Jan. 11, Burrage returned with Animal Protection and observed not only had nothing been done, but the only thing different was that one llama had died. Every animal on the farm that day was seized with the exception of three dogs which Burrage said appeared to have been well-cared for.

Over the next six days, Burrage testified, the vast majority of the animals responded well to being fed and segregated, however three had to be euthanized.

The autopsies of those, as well as tests done on the femurs from animal remains found on the property, showed the animals’ fat stores were well below healthy standards.

As it turned out, a delivery of feed was made to the Schultz property as the seizure was wrapping up, but Burrage stated that it was no more than half a dozen bales. He further explained that the roughage the animals had been consuming was of very low nutrition.

Crown Prosecutor Brittany Ashmore noted that the Schultzes lived in the middle of these animals.

“This was a hobby farm with over 100 head of livestock which were allowed to survive in excruciating conditions,” she said. “In the period of six days of adequate shelter, food and water, the difference the doctor noticed speaks to how rectifiable that situation was.”

Ashmore also cited bank records which showed the couple spent nearly $300 at Tim Horton’s over a certain period of time, that Joann had her hair done, and that a night was spent at the Alix Hotel, all dollars Ashmore urged could have gone towards the animals.

Defence Lawyer Rod Clark argued buying Tim Horton’s is not “living in the lap of luxury,” and that the couple – she who works at Wal-Mart and he as a trucker – live a very modest lifestyle.

“I did spend time on farms as a kid and one thing I learned was that farmers are the last ones to leave,” Clark stated. “You can look at a farmer who has no economic business pursuing his livelihood (anymore), but they hang on.”

Ashmore said the assertion that anyone involved in animal husbandry would ever think it was okay how the Schultzes kept their animals is appalling.

Joann Schultz did address the court, saying they bought the property 22 years ago because of their love for animals.

“Most of the animals we got were either rescued from auction marts, on the way to the slaughterhouse, or people phoning us up and asking us to take them. We never hesitated to hook the trailer up to go get them,” she said, choking back tears. “It wasn’t a business. We never thought of them as livestock. Each one was named.”

Schultz went on to say that they knew they had too many animals and had planned to downsize.

The day the animals were seized, Joann Schultz wound up in Lacombe Hospital with chest pain and was diagnosed with takotsubo cardiomyopathy, otherwise known as broken heart syndrome.

“Sometimes love just isn’t enough. I think that’s quite apparent here,” Ashmore concluded.

The Crown is calling for a 20 year prohibition on the Schultzes owning animals of any kind, as well as a 60-90 day jail sentence for each under a provision in the Provincial Offences Procedure Act. The normal maximum penalty is $20,000.

The defence is asking for a much more lenient $800 fine for each Joann and Garnet, as well as a prohibition which would not prevent the couple from keeping their now five dogs.

As part of her case law submissions, Ashmore noted a recent high-profile case in Drumheller where the judge gave the accused a 17-year ban on owning animals.

Sentencing will occur April 30 at the Red Deer Provincial Courthouse.

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