Serious cases of animal hoarding show that it may in fact be possible to love something to death.
Michael Clendenning’s voice cracked as he addressed a Chilliwack courtroom Friday afternoon.
“I love my animals,” the 73-year-old said, as he expressed the sadness he now feels when he looks out the window of his Chilliwack River Valley home on the property where he had as many as two dozen cats, 18 rabbits and nine dogs.
“I look out and see empty kennels, the empty yard where they were all running around so happy…. I miss not having animals around here anymore.”
Clendenning pleaded guilty to one count of causing an animal to continue to be in distress under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, stemming from an investigation of his property by the BC SPCA that started in late 2017 after complaints from neighbours.
Based on a joint submission from Crown counsel Cory Lo and defence lawyer Dale Pedersen, Judge Ken Skilnick banned Clendenning for life from owning animals without the prior approval of the SPCA and conditions approved by the SPCA. Skilnick’s decision involved him “tweaking” the joint submission, which simply called for a lifetime ban from Clendenning owning more than two animals.
Crown sought no fine in the case, because Clendenning had already been ordered by an appeal decision to pay more than $42,000 in veterinary and housings costs of caring for his seized animals, an amount he paid in full.
When the SPCA finally seized the 51 animals from his property on Jan. 10, 2018, the cats and rabbits were found in various states of physical and mental distress – emaciation, dehydration, wounds, scarring, breathing difficulty and severe fear.
Investigators also found a burial pit on Crown land adjacent to his property with 78 dead rabbits and 14 dead cats, but Lo said the Crown was not alleging that he was “dumping animals” as they appeared to have been wrapped in some layer of cloth and plastic before an impromptu burial.
The nine dogs seized on that day in January 2018 were all in better physical condition than any of the cats, according to the SPCA, but all animals were covered in feces and urine. The cats and rabbits were living in a dangerous situation due to the presence of an “extraordinarily high level of ammonia,” according to the written decision in Clendenning’s failed appeal to have his animals returned.
Clendenning already had a long history animal neglect dating back to 2004 in North Vancouver.
In putting forth the joint submission, his lawyer explained the circumstances of Clendenning’s life, which included that he was never married, had no children, and was a school bus driver for 30 years. He lived with his parents his whole life until they passed away in North Vancouver, and that he was plagued by anxiety and depression.
It was explained that the public nature of the proceedings – via an SPCA press release, the written decision of his failed appeal, and news stores in The Progress – has made things worse for him.
“It’s quite clear that he loves animals,” Pedersen told the court. “He had trauma with one when he was a child. His dog got off leash, ran into traffic and was killed. His brother carried it home. I have here a 1989 birthday card from his parents with a dog on it that he kept. He would never intentionally inflict any harm.”
Clendenning interrupted his lawyer on numerous instances to correct what he said were errors in facts, errors that he insisted were throughout the SPCA’s reports on him.
In the written decision rejecting his appeal to get his animals back, the report writer pointed to the fact that Clendenning never sought veterinary care despite the fact that his animals were in clear distress and he was overwhelmed with the situation.
“Regarding the 35 to 50 animals that had died in his care since October 2016, he testified that he did not know why they died. He considered seeing a veterinarian but most of the dead animals were rabbits or bunnies and illness is hard to detect. One day they are fine and the next they are dead.”
For months before the seizure, neighbours complained about the property.
“The 24-hour barking and whining and the potent feces smell for two years doesn’t compare to the worry everyone on the block had for these poor animals,” next-door neighbour Tyler Janzen said.
“I could see all this going on 40 feet away, and never once did he show any affection to any of them. All day long for over a year all we could hear was ‘shut up, shut up.’”
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