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Sask. woman who had more than 100 cats in home-based shelter guilty of putting animals in distress

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Dolores LaPlante, founder of Saskatchewan Alley Cats Association, says the penalty imposed on her will put an end to her Elrose, Sask. organization – Nov 1, 2021

The founder of Saskatchewan Alley Cats Association may have a “big heart,” but she is still guilty of putting animals in distress, a provincial court judge has ruled.

Dolores LaPlante of Elrose, Sask., was convicted last week during a court appearance in the nearby community of Rosetown. She was charged in connection with a January 2019 animal welfare removal of 106 cats, two dogs and one turtle from her 400-square-foot house.

Read more: Animal cruelty trial begins for Dolores LaPlante after 100 cats seized from Elrose, Sask. home

“The size of Ms. LaPlante’s house was grossly insufficient to support the number of cats and resulted in markedly unsanitary conditions and poor air quality,” Chief Judge Shannon Metivier stated in a written decision.

Court heard many of the cats were suffering serious communicable diseases. During the search warrant, a veterinarian heard cats coughing and sneezing.

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Dolores LaPlante had more than 100 cats at her home-based animal shelter in Elrose, Sask. Phil Bollman / Global News

During trial, LaPlante maintained that the cats were happy, healthy and could be adopted out of her home. She also argued during a voir dire that an information to obtain (ITO) a search warrant document unfairly suggested she was a “crazy cat lady.”

LaPlante was originally accused of animal cruelty and neglect under the Criminal Code, but those charges were stayed during trial. She was convicted on a non-criminal, regulatory offence under Saskatchewan’s Animal Protection Act.

“Having a big heart is not a defence under the Act,” Metivier wrote. “Ms. LaPlante had a responsibility not to take in more cats than she could provide reasonable housing and care for.”

The judge stated the conditions in LaPlante’s home “was a situation of her own making.”

Read more: Elrose shelter owner faces animal cruelty charges after 100-plus cats seized

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In his 15 years on the job with Animal Protection Services of Saskatchewan, executive director Don Ferguson said the case ranks in the top five of the worst conditions he’s seen.

“Animal protection officers saw conditions that were certainly unsanitary,” Ferguson told Global News. “There was multiple days of urine and feces accumulated on the floor.”

Officers wore full personal protective equipment, but still suffered ammonia burns or rashes on exposed skin. They needed treatment from doctors themselves, Ferguson said.

The judge levied a $400 fine against LaPlante, along with a lifetime limitation of two dogs and three cats. Animal protection officials can also conduct warrantless searches of the home, as long as they provide 48 hours’ notice.

A picture taken inside Dolores LaPlante’s home in Elrose, Sask. Animal Protection Services of Saskatchewan / Supplied

“A lifetime prohibition with limiting the numbers in Saskatchewan, up until recently, was unheard of,” Ferguson said.

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The limitation effectively ensures the end of the LaPlante’s home-based shelter, though she told Global News that Alley Cats hasn’t taken in new animals in the past two years.

LaPlante’s response

In an interview Friday, LaPlante said her health has declined in recent years. It’s been almost three years since the animals were taken from her home.

“This has just destroyed me,” LaPlante said in an interview. “It just breaks my heart and it’s not something you recover from.”

The founder said the organization still has 26 cats in foster care that the organization hopes to adopt out. She said the process might take a year or two, but Sask Alley Cats will dissolve once the cats are adopted.

Read more: ‘Still in shock’: Elrose, Sask. woman rejects animal distress investigation

LaPlante said she’s rescued more than 8,000 cats since her operation began in 1996. She graduated from the Kelsey Institute’s animal technology program in 1998.

“Now with my failing health and everything, I look back and it doesn’t even seem possible,” LaPlante said.

Court heard the cat population at Alley Cats was typically around 60 to 80. The number ballooned in 2017 to 2018 to around 150 cats and kittens.

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Previous conviction

In 2011, animal welfare officials took about 70 animals — mostly cats — from LaPlante’s home in Elrose.

She pleaded guilty to putting animals in distress, while one animal neglect charged was stayed.

In 2013, a judge ordered her to pay a $250 fine.

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