A Knutsford rancher charged with animal cruelty denied in court Friday that she was operating a puppy mill.
Under cross-examination by Crown prosecutor Chris Balison, Carol Haughton described at length the conditions of her ranch before she left to attend to her Alberta farm in June 2009.
While Haughton was away for a week, SPCA special constables acting on a public complaint obtained a warrant and investigated her ranch. Believing no one was caring for 26 Great Danes, including three litters of puppies, they seized the animals. A constable and a veterinarian testified earlier in the week that conditions were deplorable.
Haughton testified that house and yard conditions, although dirty, were not unsafe for the animals she had left in the care of her son. She also disputed some of the assessments of dog health that the vet made that day.
Crown questioning revolved around a contention that Haughton was overwhelmed by the demands of the ranch with her dogs, cats, sheep and cattle combined.
SPCA photos entered as exhibits suggested the house was cluttered and in disrepair, and that the yard was full of feces and debris.
“It was just too difficult for me to do everything,” Haughton said. The cattle business was tough and her ex-husband didn’t help with farming, but she always put the animals first, she maintained.
SPCA photos didn’t accurately show the whole yard, she said. She admitted the place needed cleaning, yet also pointed out that ranch work moves in cycles and is never complete.
“It wouldn’t have been left like that,” Haughton said. “It was just the fact I was away longer than I should have been. It would have been cleaned up when I got home.”
In the weeks leading up to the seizure, three of Haughton’s dogs bore litters, one unexpectedly. That was the only reason why she had so many dogs on the property at the time.
She was reluctant to call her operation a kennel, since the dogs lived with her in the house and around the 400-hectare ranch, but she did breed dogs for sale and in pursuit of the ideal show dog.
“This is a puppy mill, right?” Balison asked her.
“Absolutely not,” the defendant replied, reciting a list of ethical standards she followed. “I do everything according to the Canadian kennel code for ethical breeders.”
The trial continues Monday.