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Man accused of running Abbotsford puppy mill says SPCA search violated his rights

Mel Gerling leves the Chilliwack courthouse Monday, the first day of his trial.
Mel Gerling leves the Chilliwack courthouse Monday, the first day of his trial. The Province

A man accused of running a puppy mill in Abbotsford and Chilliwack is arguing that his rights were violated when B.C. SPCA investigators searched a property where some of his dogs were being boarded.

Melvin Gerling is charged with causing unnecessary pain or suffering to an animal and failing to provide the necessaries for an animal. His trial began Monday in B.C. Supreme Court in Chilliwack.

On Sept. 24, 2010 officers from the B.C. SPCA executed a search warrant at 406 Sumas Way in Abbotsford and seized 14 small dogs who were in various states of distress.

According to an opening statement by Crown prosecutor Sandra DiCurzio, a veterinarian who examined the dogs found tooth and nail issues, matted fur and varying degrees of “ocular pathology.” Some also had luxating patellas, or floating kneecaps, a common condition in dogs.

DiCurzio said Gerling’s operation was the subject of a number of orders from the SPCA over four years.

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Special provincial constable Jeanette McKnight testified that she paid her first visit to Gerling in August 2006 in response to a complaint. She found the property on Stevens Street in Abbotsford to be tidy and the animals to be healthy and clean. She did not issue an order that day.

Her next visit was a year later at a property on McSween Road in Chilliwack. This visit was also in response to a complaint that dogs were overcrowded and living in a filthy environment. She issued an order for grooming and bathing, but did not see the conditions reported in the complaint.

Over the ensuing months, McKnight visited Gerling many times.

She said Gerling had about 80 dogs in 2007 and plans to expand to 500 animals within five years so that he could supply them to a chain of pet stores.

She had some concerns about the number of dogs and wanted to make sure that the animals were being cared for and the kennel managed appropriately.

“I just have a little radar that goes off that I should watch the property,” McKnight said.

She said Gerling did not have a problem with her visiting regularly, whether for complaints or follow-ups.

“Mr. Gerling was very compliant with that — he was OK with that.”

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Gerling’s lawyer, Derwin Petri, said he plans to argue that the September 2010 search violated Gerling’s Charter right protecting him from unreasonable search and seizure.

Petri said Gerling was paying a tenant at the Sumas Way property $700 per month to take care of the dogs while he built two new kennel buildings elsewhere. Petri said because Gerling was paying the man, Gerling was sub-lessee at the property.

The SPCA visited the property on Sumas Way and used information gleaned from the visit to obtain a search warrant. Petri said Gerling did not give the SPCA permission to look around.

Petri said the SPCA also violated legislation when it obtained a search warrant instead of giving Gerling a chance to remedy the situation. Petri said there are records that show Gerling was taking care of the animals.

“Mr. Gerling had no idea as to what was going on with the initial search,” Petri said. “He was willing to do whatever needed to take place.”

Damara and Patrick English, who were Gerling’s co-accused and former business partners, pleaded guilty Monday to a charge under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. They will be sentenced at a later date.