Four years, seven arrests and two months in jail all ended for Carol Haughton Friday when her court appeal resulted in acquittal of animal cruelty charges that have had her mired in the court system.
With tears in her eyes, the Knutsford rancher and dog breeder said the first thing she'd be doing after leaving the courthouse was to retrieve one of her great Danes and one of her cats.
"I've lost my life's work," she said. "My reputation is ruined as a breeder."
Four of the nine adult great Danes she owned are still alive. Many were elderly and have died during the four years of court battles.
"I've been living in a time warp," she said.
"Four years of hell are finally over."
The SPCA was unaware of Friday's appeal ruling. Spokeswoman Marcie Moriarty said the agency would be looking into the judge's reasons, but the decision was disappointing.
"I'm surprised and obviously disappointed in the outcome," she said.
"This is an individual we felt absolutely demonstrated an inability to care for these animals."
The case was tried under an old prevention of cruelty to animals act that has since undergone some changes.
"I hope it doesn't impact future cases," she said.
"It's incumbent on people placing their animals in the care of someone if they're away, who will follow up with adequate care."
Haughton was charged in 2009 after she went to Alberta to help out on a ranch. She left her son Jason to take care of 18 puppies, several adult dogs and 13 cats in their home.
The pets had the run of the house, but Jason failed to clean up the feces and urine that quickly amassed. It was Haughton's ex husband who called in the SPCA.
Haughton was charged with causing unnecessary pain and suffering to animals, providing inadequate care and causing animals to be in distress. She was originally acquitted of the first charge but found guilty of the latter two.
Justice Dev Dley noted that Jason has been around the animals all his life and had helped out with caring for them when necessary in the last few years.
Haughton did what was reasonable in ensuring her animals were cared for when she left them with Jason, although he didn't clean up after them.
Dley said the house was described as filthy, with the stench and garbage piled up making it insuitable for living.
"Ms. Haughton was neither willful nor negligent," he said, adding she had put the animals in the care of a trusted custodian.
He also disagreed with the trial judge's decision that the animals were under duress. Living conditions were inadequate, but the animals were not distressed, he said.
The SPCA seized the animals and kept them for 10 months, charging Haughton $34,000 for the cost of their care during that time. Haughton has had some of them farmed out to friends.