Sentence Outrageous: BCSPCA

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BC SPCA officials are expressing disbelief and outrage over the outcome of a high-profile animal cruelty case that concluded in a Nelson courtroom Tuesday.

Blaine Bennett and Judy Kurenka of Kalso, BC, were in court to face 13 counts of animal cruelty in one of the largest cruelty investigations in BC history.

In November 2002, BC SPCA animal protection officers executed search warrants on two properties owned by the couple and seized 103 badly-neglected and abused animals, including three Barbary macaques, a Japanese Snow Monkey, 11 marmosets, exotic birds, pot bellied pigs, miniature horses, chinchillas, rabbits, ducks, chickens, and a llama. Five of the animals had to be euthanized immediately because of critical distress.

“This was a horrific case of abuse involving a large number of exotic, farm and domestic animals,” Marcie Moriarty, General Manager of Cruelty Investigations for the BC SPCA. “Despite overwhelming evidence in the investigation and a guilty plea by Bennett, the outcome of the case was shocking. It was barely a slap on the wrist.”

Bennett and Kurenka received no fine, no jail time, and are not required to pay restitution to the BC SPCA for any of the more than $100,000 the non-profit society had to spend to rehabilitate, shelter and re-home the animals. Bennett and Kurenka are also allowed to continue owning a wide variety of animals, including many of the species that were found in critical distress on their property.

While the court did agree to a 10 year prohibition on owning animals for the couple, the prohibition came with a list of “exceptions” allowing the couple to own an unlimited number of dogs, cats, poultry or fowl, cows, goats, pigs, rodents, domestic birds and fish, two horses and any other animal agreed to by the SPCA.

“Not only did the couple go unpunished for the crime of abusing 103 animals, but no protections have been put into place to stop them from picking up right where they left off,” says Moriarty. “There wasn’t even a probation period included in the sentencing that would have given the SPCA the right to inspect the welfare of new animals acquired by the couple.”

She points out that the BC SPCA, through its branch in Nelson, made numerous attempts to work with Bennett and Kurenka in the past to make the necessary changes to their animals’ environment, but instructions and recommendations issued by the SPCA were repeatedly ignored.

“We have no reason to believe things will be different now and I anticipate our cruelty officers will be called out again within a year to deal with more allegations of animal abuse on their property.”

Moriarty adds it is very discouraging for the SPCA to spend hundreds of staff hours and hundreds of thousands of donor dollars on a cruelty case only to have the courts allow animal abusers to continue their actions.

Moriarty says the fact that it took three years for the Bennett-Kurenka case to reach the courts only to have Crown counsel agree to such lenient terms is extremely disappointing. “This is not just a matter of justice delayed. It is a case of justice denied and it speaks to the serious lack of concern in our judicial system over violent crimes against animals.”

Under BC law, individuals convicted of animal cruelty can be fined up to $2,000, given a jail sentence of up to six months and can be prohibited from owning animals for a period of time determined by the judge.

The Bennett-Kurenka case made headlines not only because of the large number of animals involved, but because of the complexity of relocating the exotic animals to facilities that could adequately provide for their needs.

Following the SPCA seizure, the primates were transported to specially-constructed enclosures at the Surrey SPCA shelter, where they received on-going care and socialization for more than a year while the SPCA conducted an extensive search to find accredited facilities willing to accept them.

The other animals rescued from the property were placed in facilities in the Interior for rehabilitation and adoption.

In March 2004 the SPCA was able to relocate the three adult Barbary macaques and a baby ape born at the Surrey shelter to the Wild Animal Orphanage in San Antonio, Texas. Later that year, the Japanese Snow Monkey was transported to Parc Safari, a wildlife sanctuary in Hemmington, Quebec.

The BC SPCA is currently petitioning the government to strengthen BC’s existing animal cruelty laws. An online petition and other information are available at www.EndAnimalCruelty.com or by calling 1-800-665-1868.

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