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Gull Lake animal hoarders appealing sentences

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Peter Chernecki stands in the windowless garage where some of the 64 dogs were kept.

JOE BRYKSA / FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Peter Chernecki stands in the windowless garage where some of the 64 dogs were kept.

A Gull Lake couple convicted of hoarding dogs in awful conditions in dank sheds on their homestead are appealing the sentences and animal-ownership bans they recently received in provincial court.

In February, Judge Carena Roller sentenced Peter Chernecki, 64, to four months in jail and ordered his wife, Judith, 63, to pay $21,500 in fines and serve two years of probation.

Roller also banned the pair from owning or possessing animals — save for two cats — for a five-year period.

Animal-welfare officials lauded the sentence Roller delivered, in what was considered to be one of the worst animal-hoarding cases Manitoba's ever seen.

But the punishment doesn't fit the crime, defence lawyer Jay Prober suggests in appeal documents now filed in the Court of Queen's Bench.

"The sentences are unduly harsh and unfair," Prober states. The couple had no prior convictions under the Animal Care Act and filed numerous references as to their good character with the court at sentencing, he added. The animal-ownership ban is "unduly harsh," Prober states.

The Cherneckis were hit with numerous Animal Care Act counts after 64 dogs were removed from their care in July 2010. Thirty-four of the canines were euthanized by officials. Seven others with severe behavioural problems were sent to a specialized dog-rehabilitation centre in Utah.

Most of the hoarded dogs lived in darkness and squalor, confined in a dank, reeking, 672-square-foot cabin, its rotting floor covered in a "wet paste" of straw, mud and excrement, according to the Crown.

Investigators uncovered a nest of live rats that some dogs lived with, court heard. One dog had a major head wound a provincial veterinarian estimated must have happened two weeks before it was rescued, Roller said.

The couple protested being described as animal abusers. They told court they were animal lovers who took in unwanted and stray dogs in an effort to help them. They got in over their heads, Prober told Roller.

Some legal observers expressed surprise at the four-month jail term Roller handed Peter Chernecki. Just weeks earlier, her colleague, Judge Mary Kate Harvie, had handed an experienced farmer who starved his cattle over a family-related dispute to 45 days behind bars. In his case, 67 cows died and 52 were found near death due to hunger.

Roller was presented with Harvie's decision prior to deciding the Chernecki's fate on Feb. 26.

No dates to hear the appeal have been set and the Crown has yet to respond.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

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