A Gull Lake man who hoarded dogs in "deplorable" conditions on his property has been sent to jail for four months, and his wife fined $21,500 for her role in what provincial officials describe as the worst such case ever seen in Manitoba.
Peter and Judith Chernecki learned their fates today in provincial court in Winnipeg.
Judge Carena Roller also ordered the two to serve two years of probation and barred them from owning or possessing animals for a period of five years — the maximum prohibition on ownership available at the time they were charged.
"If I were permitted (in law) to impose lifetime bans, I would do so, so worried that I am about recidivism," Roller told them.
The Cherneckis each previously pleaded guilty to seven Animal Care Act violations in connection to an animal-welfare investigation on their rural property in July 2010.
Sixty-four dogs were seized from them after provincial animal protection officers and RCMP turned up to investigate an animal welfare complaint, court previously heard.
Of 64 dogs that officials seized, 34 of them had to be euthanized. Seven others were sent to the Dogtown USA animal rehabilitation centre in Utah because of their severe behavioural problems.
Most of all the hoarded dogs were living in darkness in a 672-square-foot cabin, its floor covered in a "wet paste" of straw, mud and excrement.
Investigators also uncovered a live nest of rats which some of the dogs lived with, Crown attorney Shaun Sass has said.
One dog was found to have suffered a major wound to its head, one a provincial veterinarian estimated had to have happened two weeks before it was rescued from its dank and filthy environment.
The couple's actions toward the dogs was "heartbreaking at best, and cruel at worst," said Roller, who said photos she was shown of the conditions the animals were found in wouldn't be soon forgotten.
She "strongly" disagreed with their defence lawyer's assertion that they weren't criminals, but people who loved animals and got in over their heads trying to care for strays.
There was no evidence they were making efforts to try and find homes for the dogs, she said.
Roller said she was very concerned with the couple's deflections of blame onto animal-welfare officials for some vendetta they believed existed against them.
"The Cherneckis insist they were doing well by these animals," Roller said.
Animal welfare officials contend it's the worst case of animal hoarding ever seen in the province.
Winnipeg Humane Society CEO Bill McDonald said after court he was surprised by the four-month term handed down.
"I think it is an unprecedented sentence here in Manitoba and maybe across Canada," McDonald said.
"The consequences are now, folks — it's jail time (for animal abuse)," he said. "We catch you, and it's jail time."
By March 12, the couple must surrender or find homes for 40 of 42 cats they currently care for.
Their probation conditions include allowing animal-welfare officers to randomly search their property no more than once a month.